Though this photo was taken in March, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi probably didn't know he'd be waving a more permanent good-bye so soon. (FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
At about 7:30 p.m. local time in Rome, Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s famously ostentatious prime minister, arrived outside the presidential palace to crowds of hecklers. He then walked — or, more likely, sauntered — into Italian President Giorgio Napolitano’s office and tendered his resignation. This whole chain of events was set in motion after the European debt crisis came suddenly knocking at Italy’s door this week, after which Berlusconi’s power base evaporated and he (in surprisingly non-bombastic form) agreed to take his last bow, but not before successfully ramming a tough austerity package through both houses of the Italian Parliament, which passed earlier today. (The European Union already says the package, which raises the retirement age and includes a fire sale of state assets, does not go far enough.) A statement put out by the Italian president’s office says Napolitano accepted Berlusconi’s resignation.
Who will replace Berlusconi is still unclear, though all bets are on Mario Monti, a former EU commissioner who is being praised in the press and around the world as the “technocrat” needed to bring Italy back from the brink. While doubts remained whether Berlusconi’s party would fall in line, Monti and Berlusconi were seen having lunch today, which the AP said was “a clear sign the political transition was already under way.” For Italians, this means the end of a cabinet populated with scantily-clad actresses and tabloid stories portraying their 70-year-old-plus premier as something less than dignified. For the rest of the world, this means we may need to start taking Italy just a little bit more seriously.