This is what happened:
- Last night, Silvio Berlusconi put out a communiqué saying that he is "besieged" by people asking him to run in next year's elections, and will make his final decision "within the next few days".
- This morning, Italian Economic Development Minister Corrado Passera (in the picture) was critical of Berlusconi's declarations, arguing that "anything that can make the rest of the world even only imagine that we are going backwards is not good for Italy". A clear invitation to Il Cavaliere to enjoy a peaceful retirement.
- Retaliation has been immediate. Mario Monti was facing a confidence vote in the Italian Senate this morning on a new set of (badly needed) measures to boost the competitiveness of the Italian economy, drafted by Passera himself. A majority of senators from Berlusconi's party did not take part in the vote, while a smaller group abstained.
- Crucially, the leader of Berlusconi's senators, Maurizio Gasparri, said ahead of the vote, "Our attitude [today] signals...the shift of our group to a position of abstention towards the government." This seems to suggest that Berlusconi's party has withdrawn its support for Monti's government.
The big question is: was today's an isolated incident or a definitive change of position? Gasparri's words seem to suggest the latter could be true. Should this be the case, Berlusconi could be about to trigger another round of political uncertainty Italy really doesn't need.