BRUSSELS — European leaders paid tribute Monday to Silvio Berlusconi’s political legacy after the divisive ex-Italian prime minister died aged 86.
Condolences landed in Milan, where Berlusconi died in hospital, from the European political elite who remember a “great fighter” and his “remarkable legacy.”
“With the death of Silvio Berlusconi, Italy has lost a strong personality,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte who, having been in power since 2010, was the Italian PM’s counterpart for a year until Berlusconi’s resignation in November 2011 as the country battled a crippling debt crisis.
“He was the first Italian prime minister I worked with, and I will remember him as a striking and passionate politician,” Rutte added.
Many of the Italian leader’s former political allies joined in to salute his political heritage.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán — who has also been in power since 2010 and like Berlusconi is closer to Russia and its President Vladimir Putin than most other European leaders — posted a black-and-white picture of him shaking hands with the former Italian PM, with the caption “rest in peace, my friend.”
“Gone is the great fighter,” wrote Orbán, whose populist Fidesz party was in the pan-European conservative European People’s Party (EPP), like Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, until its participation in the alliance was suspended in 2019.
After multiple terms as Italian prime minister and a storied career in business, Berlusconi became a diminished political figure, struggling to remain relevant in politics while being involved in several legal cases which saw him found guilty of bribery and tax fraud. After a six-year ban from public office, he was elected as an MEP in 2019, and to the Italian Senate in 2022.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Berlusconi had “led Italy in a time of political transition and since then continued to shape his beloved country.”
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola thanked “the fighter who led the center-right and who was the protagonist of politics in Italy and Europe for generations.”
“He left his mark and will not be forgotten,” said Metsola who, like Berlusconi, is a member of the EPP.
“A long-time protagonist of Italian and European politics, [Berlusconi] leaves a remarkable legacy,” said Croatian Prime Minister and fellow EPP member Andrej Plenković. “We will also remember him as a great supporter and friend of Croatia.”
EPP President Manfred Weber said he was “saddened” by the former Italian leader’s passing. “We will not forget the energy and dedication with which he worked for his beloved Italy, for his political family and his European ideals.”
A billionaire business tycoon-turned-politician, Berlusconi, dominated Italian politics for close to two decades, serving three terms as prime minister until his dramatic downfall in 2011. Berlusconi had been hospitalized on several occasions in recent months over a range of health issues.
Tributes also poured in from beyond the EU’s borders.
In a statement published by the Kremlin on Monday, Russian President Putin described Berlusconi as a “true friend” who “will be remembered in Russia as a consistent and principled supporter of strengthening friendly relations between our countries.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added: “I was deeply saddened by the passing of Silvio Berlusconi, the former Prime Minister of Italy. My heartfelt condolences go out to his family and to the people of Italy. Silvio was a great friend of Israel and stood by us at all times. Rest in peace my friend.”
This article has been updated.