Italian regional polls will show if Silvio Berlusconi’s popularity is waning
• THE prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, will be able to assess the damage that a string of scandals has meted out to his government when Italians go to the polls for two days of voting in regional elections starting on Sunday March 28th. Elections are set to take place in 13 of Italy’s 20 regions. Eleven regions are held by the centre-left opposition. Mr Berlusconi, hoping to capitalise on a wave of sympathy after an attack by a mentally unstable man in December, had hoped his People of Freedom (PdL) movement might oust up to five centrist and left-wing governors. But its campaign is in chaos—and the government’s ratings are plunging.
• FOUR employees of Rio Tinto, a huge Anglo-Australian mining company, go on trial in China on Monday March 22nd on charges of bribery and industrial espionage in connection with negotiations over the price of iron ore. The accused, three Chinese and one Australian, were arrested last year shortly after Rio had spurned a big investment from Chinalco, a Chinese state-backed metals firm, infuriating the Chinese authorities. That led to speculation that the two events were linked while also dealing a blow to relations between China and Australia. But now relations seem to be improving, at least between Rio and Chinalco. The two companies are have announced a big iron-ore joint venture in Africa.
• BRITAIN’S chancellor of the exchequer (finance minister), Alastair Darling, unveils Britain’s budget on Wednesday March 24th. With an election looming—a poll must be called before June and May 6th is widely touted as the likely date—Mr Darling will be gratified that recent figures show Britain’s deficit, while vast, has not expanded quite as much as predicted. Britain’s lacklustre economy and dreadful public finances are sure to be important election issues. But Mr Darling’s urge to tackle the deficit with a budget of nothing but austerity measures make take second place to doling out a few election sweeteners to the country’s voters.
• EUROPE’S leaders will converge on Brussels for a two day EU summit starting on Thursday March 25th. The Greek debt crisis and the fragility of other European economies is sure to be the main talking point. Greece’s prime minister, George Papandreou, has called on the EU to come up with a way of channeling financial aid to his country as a reward for the drastic austerity package he has pushed through. But any scheme aimed at saving Greece will have to overcome severe misgivings about a rescue package brewing in Germany. Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, has even suggested a mechanism to throw out countries from the euro area if they repeatedly flout fiscal rules.