The lower house of the Italian Parliament on Saturday voted overwhelmingly in favor of an austerity plan aimed at heading off the crisis in the country's sovereign debt. The vote has a more immediate effect for Italians: it clears the way for the expected resignation of the country's long-serving and colorful Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. [Update: Berlusconi has resigned.]
What a decade-long torrent of tabloid coverage couldn't do to Berlusconi, the European debt crisis finally did. He gleefully batted away years' worth of questions about his behavior, including inquiries into his business activities and the mingling of his media empire with his political career, as well as repeated and sordid flare-ups from his apparently active love life. Those included reports last year of the prime minister's interest in "bunga bunga" parties, featuring the attentions of young women and, apparently, whatever else Silvio wanted.
But he could not escape the crisis that is rocking European financial markets and government, The New York Times reported.
The lower house passed the measures on Saturday by a vote of 380 to 26, a day after they were approved by the Senate, trying to keep a step ahead of market pressures that sent borrowing rates on Italian bonds skyrocketing last week to levels that have required other euro zone countries to seek bailouts.
The vote, and Mr. Berlusconi’s expected resignation, come amid the biggest crisis facing the European Union in decades, in which the power of financial markets has upended traditional democratic processes.
Pressured by European leaders struggling to shore up the euro against speculative attacks, Prime Minister George A. Papandreou of Greece resigned last week to make way for a technocrat-led unity government. Mr. Berlusconi was expected to do the same, a rare about-face for a leader known for his perseverance and his refusal to bow to critics.
The resignation will prove a political sea change for Italians. The government led by a gleeful billionaire is now expected to follow the lead of Mario Monti, a former commissioner of the European Union and a "technocrat," as the BBC labeled him.