All the rooms of the Forza Italia headquarters in the center of Rome, much more austere than the great villas of its leader, are still decorated with the photos of a young Silvio Berlusconi. More than 27 years after founding it, he is still a boss without relief. Antonio Tajani (Rome, 1953), the number two of the party and his visible face in the times when The Knight He has been convalescing due to the ailments of the covid, he appears on Tuesday afternoon in one of those rooms and shows the way to his office. The former president of the European Parliament (between 2017 and 2019), an affable and friendly man, is today vice-president of the European People’s Party (EPP) and knows perfectly the ins and outs of the European institutions. And, somehow, all these biographical data are now in the most important political cocktail of the coming months in Italy: the election of the President of the Republic. Tajani, who conducts the entire interview in Spanish, is clear about who it should be.
Question. Forza Italia has gone from being the formation of the Government and the leader of the right to being the little brother of the coalition. What is your diagnosis?
Answer. Now, fortunately, we are going up a lot, the polls give us more than 10% of voting intention. And this is because we help the Draghi government. Berlusconi was the first to speak of a National Unity Executive against the covid. And, look, now there is a lot of talk about him as President of the Republic and he is once again the protagonist. We make proposals, we are pragmatic, we do not enter into sterile wars. And we are a guarantee at the European level. The center right can win. But it is more difficult to govern than to win. That is why it is important that a moderate party like us guarantee certain things.
P. It seems that there is a certain rehabilitation of the figure of Berlusconi after so many years of problems and scandals.
R. Everyone understands that Berlusconi is not the devil. Now he is a statesman, a champion of the sports sector; also in the industrial sector, on television …
P. Is he still making the decisions in the game?
Join EL PAÍS now to follow all the news and read without limits
R. Yes, he is the boss and the political guide. I am the number two. I spoke with him two hours ago and tomorrow we are going to Strasbourg to vote for the EPP candidate for the presidency of the European Parliament [finalmente Berlusconi no viajó a causa de la muerte del empresario Ennio Doris, amigo íntimo].
We must work to defend citizens, health and the economy. Populism is not the solution
P. Berlusconi has not had a relief since he founded the party 27 years ago. Wouldn’t it be time to think about the era after him?
R. He is a leader and many vote for him. A liberal man, protagonist, with market economy values. He defends Europe… But he has a team around him that works very well. Now we do not think about the post-Berlusconi.
P. Will he be a candidate for the presidency of the Republic?
R. There is no official candidacy, let’s see what happens with the election. But I would very much like to see Berlusconi at the Quirinal Palace [la sede de la presidencia de la República].
P. They will have told you if they are interested in applying …
R. Now he does not speak because it is too early. This race is won in the end. But my dream is that it is him. I think he deserves to be president, he would be a great head of state. But it can’t be a flag candidate [aquellos que se presentan en la primera votación parlamentaria y terminan quemados].
P. The reality is, the numbers, with the support of your partners and a few snipers, you could have.
R. Of course. And in the polls the favorites are Draghi and him.
P. It seems that people from the 5 Star Movement have already begun to ask for the vote. In fact, Berlusconi the other day was unusually in favor of Citizen Income.
R. No, now is too early … everything is at the end. Now it is important to finish with the Recovery Plan projects [el plan de recuperación]: they are 209,000 million conditioned to the reforms.
P. Will the center-right coalition vote together? Also to Berlusconi?
R. Yeah right. It will be a unitary position.
P. The other day, Giorgia Meloni hinted that they would not vote for him when he learned of the negotiations with Enrico Letta from Forza Italia.
R. It was a misunderstanding. Letta’s proposal was to work together for the budget, not for the Quirinal. We have resolved that issue.
P. If it weren’t Berlusconi, who do you think is a good candidate?
R. Berlusconi interests me. But, in any case, it has to be a president who is not against the center-right. We have many votes and parliamentarians.
P. Do you prefer Draghi as President of the Republic or as Prime Minister?
R. He would be a perfect President of the Republic, but without Draghi as Prime Minister we cannot move forward. There is no other leader who can hold together this majority of the Government: Berlusconi, Letta, [Matteo] Renzi, [Giuseppe] Conte… Only a strong man of state and with a high level can do it. There are no others.
P. So if Draghi leaves, does the government fall?
R. Yes of course. We would go to vote in 2022, and it is not good for the country now. There is no other who can maintain unity. He is a man who has personal strength. Without a super chief capable of bringing all these profiles to the same table, the unity government dies. And that would compromise the reforms.
P. Renato Brunetta, Minister of Public Administrations and strong man of his party, told this newspaper that he sees Draghi as president in a French-type model, with more power.
R. Yes, but that cannot be done. The Constitution does not allow it. One thing is dreams and the other is reality.
P. Do you see more happening to Ursula von der Leyen in the European Commission?
R. Yeah right. Also as the next president of the European Council. Or the International Monetary Fund. It is important as Italians to have a boss at the European level.
P. Do you think you could be prime minister again after an election?
R. I see him in the places that I tell him. It is important for Italy to once again have a prime minister out of the polls. Berlusconi was the last. And for democracy it is important. Draghi can be a good leader in Europe, where they are rare.
P. Giorgia Meloni has become the virtual leader of the coalition. Has that generated friction with Matteo Salvini and instability in the group?
R. Now it is important to work together against the coronavirus. In the next elections the center-right can win, then we will see who the prime minister is. We would like a single, liberal and reformist, pro-European and pro-Atlantic party.
P. Like that old Berlusconi People of Freedom?
R. Yeah right. But with the League, Brothers of Italy and us. It is Berlusconi’s dream.
P. But it is that Forza Italia, a moderate and pro-European party, as you say, is allied with two ultra parties.
R. Now they are not against Europe. They don’t talk about Italexit… Meloni is in the European Conservative Party and the situation is better. Some things have changed, but we are different, of course. We are from the Popular Party family.
P. That is why it is strange that they are with two far-right parties.
R. Well, but it is the electoral system. We cannot change it. Also the 5 Star Movement and the Democratic Party are different and go together. This is the Italian electoral system.
R. But there is a center space that nobody manages to conquer.
R. The center is Forza Italia. With this electoral law, our job is to expand there. Add votes from people who have stopped doing it. But I don’t think that a center party can be born with this electoral system. Others have already tried. We have to reach 15 or 20%.
P. Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi seeks to grow there. Would it be a good ally?
R. His party is not of the center-right but we share positions on issues such as justice or the fight against covid. But we do not share a coalition. I don’t think they will be with us in the elections.
P. Well, at least for the election of the President of the Republic.
R. We’ll see.
P. Is populist sovereignty over in Italy?
R. The coronavirus has changed many things. Anti-European ideas are now past. We must work to defend citizens, health and the economy. Populism is not the solution. If there are questions, they must be answered. If not, it is pure bla bla bla.
Follow all the international information at Facebook and Twitter, o en our weekly newsletter.