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Thursday, July 03, 2003

Well, It Didn't Take Very Long, Now Did It?

Now we're only into the second day of the presidency, and he's already making waves. What is being reflected here is the fact that Europe is not only a 'fushion' of economies with differing characteristics, it is also an uneasy and unstable cocktail of different political cultures. I suspect that these are not just 'gaffes', I suspect that this kind of thing is quite normal in Italian political life. So the man doesn't understand what the problem is. Here in Spain Aznar also uses the epithet of 'nazi' for every political idea he doesn't seem to be happy with. The PSOE of course were accused of 'behaving like nazi's' in opposing the war. This is a bit ironic when you look at the tradition of the extreme right in these countries. However all this comes at a very difficult time for the EU project, so it is difficult to foresee what the consequences might be. Especially if all the rhetoric about the death of the stability pact turns serious.

Italy's two-day-old presidency of the European Union on Wednesday descended into acrimony after Silvio Berlusconi compared a German member of the European parliament to a Nazi concentration camp guard. The Italian prime minister's "ironic" remark caused outrage in Berlin and alienated many MEPs with whom he will have to work during his six months at the helm of the EU. The remarks fuelled widely held concerns over Mr Berlusconi's ability to provide leadership at a time when the EU faces unprecedented challenges, from healing the transatlantic rift to securing agreement for a European constitutional treaty.

By insulting Germany and the European parliament, which decides most legislation, Mr Berlusconi's task will be that much harder. He has previously upset France and European Commission president Romano Prodi. Mr Berlusconi was reported to have partially apologised in a private meeting, but only for offence caused to the German people, not to the target of his comments Martin Schulz, the Germany social democrat MEP. His comments came after Mr Schulz criticised the prime minister's conflicts of interest, the anti-immigration rhetoric of one of his ministers and poked fun at his ability to avoid prosecution. Mr Berlusconi calmly waited for his turn to speak, then said: "Mr Schulz, I know there is a producer in Italy making a film on the Nazi concentration camps. I would suggest you as the role of the guard. You would be perfect." The chamber erupted, but Mr Berlusconi later said: "My joke was not meant to be offensive. It was ironic. I have no intention to apologise. He attacked me and was offensive about me and my country."
Source: Financial Times

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