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Italy's Libya problem

Protests in Libya
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Protests in Libya

Italy—and the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi—have more exposure to the crisis in Libya than most.

Begin with this fact: Italy imports almost one quarter of its oil from Libya.

According to statistics from the International Energy Agency, Italy imports 376,000 barrels of oil per day from Libya—which is equal to 22 percent of its total oil imports.

Moreover, there is the perception of a personal relationship between Prime Minister Berlusconi and Muammar Gaddafi—which a Bloomberg news headline this morning splashily termed a "Slavish Courtship" on Berlusconi's behalf.

For example: "Berlusconi shut down the city's biggest park in June 2009 to allow the visiting Libyan leader and his entourage of all- female bodyguards to set up camp by the 16th-century Villa Doria Pamphili. A year earlier, Italy agreed to pay $5 billion over 25 years to its former colony in reparations."

(You may recall the unpleasantness, in November of 2009, when Gaddafi attempted to pitch a tent in Bedford, New York. In West Chester, if not in Rome, better judgment prevailed.)

Of course, the Italian prime minister has other problems.

Berlusconi is currently embroiled in a rather unpleasant sex scandal.

Italian prosecutors have alleged that Berlusconi paid an underage 17-year-old nightclub dancer for sex—then improperly used his office to influence a criminal investigation concerning the girl.

(Note: Even in Italy, this is considered bad form.)

Berlusconi has denied having sex with the girl.

Back on the international front, as Bloomberg reports, Berlusconi's handling of his relationship with Gaddafi, in the wake of the Libyan crisis, has become yet another liability:

"As the first reports of civil unrest began to filter through from Libya this month, Berlusconi was reluctant to criticize his ally. The premier said Feb. 19, four days after anti-government protests began, that he did not want to 'disturb' Qaddafi and had not called him."

On Feb. 21st, Berlusconi eventually condemned Gadaffi's use of force as "unacceptable" and expressed his desire for a common effort "to prevent the Libyan crisis from degenerating into a civil war that will have consequences difficult to predict."

But the bad political optics in Italy continue—at a time when Prime Minister Berlusconi can ill-afford the negative press.

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