Silvio Berlusconi’s death triggers real-life Succession drama

How the five children of Italy’s former prime minister will divide his estate and business assets is a matter of much speculation

Silvio Berlusconi family
Silvio Berlusconi’s children Marina, Pier Silvio, Barbara, Eleonora and Luigi all hold stakes in his company Fininvest
(Image credit: Illustrated / Getty Images)

The death of Silvio Berlusconi this week brought an abrupt and unexpected end to predictions of a Hollywood-esque comeback for the media tycoon-turned-political leader.

“It was like the episode in ‘Succession’ when Logan Roy dies,” said Concita De Gregorio in The Hollywood Reporter. “No one believed it was possible.”

As Italy now mourns the death of the 86-year-old former prime minister, his five children “have been catapulted into the limelight” as the stars of a real-life succession drama, wrote the BBC’s Milan-based reporter Sofia Bettiza.

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Berlusconi, who died in hospital in the northern city on Monday, “amassed a vast empire that spanned media, real estate, finance, cinema and sport”, along with leading a “powerful” political party, Bettiza continued. But while he was one of the country's richest men, with business assets worth an estimated €6bn (£5.15bn), “he never publicly indicated who should lead his business empire after his death”.

Who is next in line?

Each of Berlusconi’s children holds stakes in his holding company Fininvest and are now set to “carve up the empire he built from scratch”, said Rome-based journalist Tom Kington in The Times.

Unlike in HBO’s hit series “Succession”, “there has been no dispute so far over who takes over the empire”, Kington added. Berlusconi’s eldest daughter, Marina, is already the head of Fininvest. She is reportedly considered the “best business brain of the clan” and was the “closest” to her late father.

Marina's brother Pier Silvio currently leads the company’s TV network Mediaset, and both own “nearly 8% each” of Fininvest. Their three siblings Barbara, Eleonora and Luigi, who have a different mother, jointly own a 21.4% stake.

The “key question” now, wrote Daniel Verdú for El País, is “who will receive Berlusconi’s part”, a 61% majority share.

By Italian law, his children must receive at least two-thirds of his estate. But Belusconi’s partner, Marta Fascina, “could change the balance” of the remainder, and his children may choose to sell their part of the company, “thinking of money and their peace of mind”.

Alternatively, Verdú suggested, the five children may choose to keep their stakes, to ensure they “maintain their power, primarily in Italy and Spain”.

All five have “mostly shied away from the media spotlight” so far, wrote Giulia Carbonaro for Euronews. And none “have the same energy that their father was able to bring” to the public arena. Although “cynicism, ambition and greed can be learned”, she added, the “disposition and hunger for success” and “the ability to achieve it” cannot.

What now for Forza Italia?

Berlusconi is said to have been the “‘the glue’ who kept his children united”, wrote the BBC’s Bettiza, and “whether that family unity can be maintained” now that he is gone remains to be seen. His assets may be “tricky to pass on to his offspring in an equal way”, particularly his “numerous luxurious villas”.

What may be even trickier to pass on is his right-wing political party Forza Italia, which is part of Giorgia Meloni’s current coalition government and in which Berlusconi’s partner Fascina is an MP.

Forza Italia “might be dead without Berlusconi”, said Carbonaro at Euronews. He was its “uncontested leader since its creation” and “funded the party for the past decade”.

Whether the party survives may come down to whether his two eldest children, Marina and Pier Silvio, “want to keep investing in their father's political creation” or decide to “turn off the financial tap”, said the BBC’s Bettiza.

There could be a “huge twist” to the ongoing drama if Marina decided to leave her business position to take over leadership of Forza Italia, wrote Kington for The Times. Berlusconi biographer Alan Friedman told the paper that Marina was “too timid” for the political limelight, however, and was more likely to play “king maker” in picking the party’s next leader.

A lot is riding on the party’s survival. In a country “well-known for regular political crises”, said Bettiza, a “government collapse” triggered by that of one of its coalition partners “does not seem such an unlikely scenario”.

Given those stakes, said Carbonaro at Euronews, current prime minister Meloni may “try to keep the party afloat” in order to prevent knock-on damage to the government.

One thing that seems almost certain, added Bettiza, is that Berlusconi’s death means his children have to “emerge from the shadows to take the reins of his empire”.

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Richard Windsor is a freelance writer for The Week Digital. He began his journalism career writing about politics and sport while studying at the University of Southampton. He then worked across various football publications before specialising in cycling for almost nine years, covering major races including the Tour de France and interviewing some of the sport’s top riders. He led Cycling Weekly’s digital platforms as editor for seven of those years, helping to transform the publication into the UK’s largest cycling website. He now works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant.