Berlusconi should not be leading the G8

Silvio Berlusconi was born in 1936, the same year that Hitler hosted the Summer Olympics. It would be fair to say that the bevy of women now talking of their steamy nights with the Italian leader probably don’t even remember Italia 90, let alone anything pre-Anschluss. And so the Commedia dell’Arte rumbles on, with Mr Berlusconi’s lawyer playing the unlicensed court fool.

All this could just be another seedy tale if it wasn’t for the fact that the Prime Minister of Italy not only leads this merry dance but is chairing next week’s G8 summit in L’Aquila.

Despite Mr Berlusconi’s position as longest-serving G8 leader, this old boys’ club of rich nations should surely be embarrassed that the Italian leader is playing host.

Not, of course, because France, Canada, the US, UK, Japan, Russia and Germany have taken a moral stance on the Italian leader’s entanglement in sleaze. No, for a more important reason still: the G8’s agenda has Africa and development firmly at its centre but Mr Berlusconi has failed to keep his aid promises. The billionaire tycoon has directed his national gaze inwards, causing Italy to shrink in international stature. His moral failings in the treatment of the world’s poor rather than his poolside parties mean that his place at the top table deserves to be threatened.

Four years ago in Gleneagles leaders promised to double their aid to Africa by $25 billion a year by 2010. Even before the financial crisis the Italian Government had shown little commitment, having increased its giving by just 3 per cent when a whopping 145 per cent is now needed to reach its aid target. And recently Italy announced its intention of making devastating cuts in its aid budget, blaming the financial crisis. It’s likely Italy will now be giving less aid than any other G7 country as a percentage of gross national income.

Italy’s obfuscatory tactic is a new initiative called the “whole of country” approach. This aims to bundle together not just what each government gives in aid, but what charities, individuals, companies and trade links contribute to the development pot. Italy even wants Vatican aid donations to be included as part of the new accounting.

The non-G8 nations Sweden, the Netherlands and Spain all give more aid than Italy, have a more progressive approach to other development issues and similar amounts of global influence. If we are to have a G8 with any credibility, either Italy should honour its aid promises or one of these forward-looking countries should slip into Mr Berlusconi’s warm seat?

Joanne Green, head of policy at the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development.