Saturday

24th Feb 2018

Berlusconi in Brussels on pre-election charm offensive

  • Berlusconi said he was willing to "respect the three percent" rule (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Seven years after he resigned as a prime minister after the Italian debt crisis threatened the eurozone, Silvio Berlusconi went to Brussels this week presenting himself as an element of political stability for Italy and Europe - ahead of Italy's general election on March 4.

On Monday and Tuesday (22-23 January), the 81-year old ex-prime minister met leading figures from his centre-right European People's Party, including the the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and the president of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani, plus EU negotiator on Brexit Michel Barnier.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

With his Brussels trip, the Italian former PM sought - and obtained - an endorsement for his leading role within his centre-right coalition, that, along with his Forza Italia party, includes the hard-right Northern League party led by Matteo Salvini, and the Brothers of Italy party.

Berlusconi's charm offensive came after the Northern League's Salvini, who has repeatedly called for a referendum on Italy's euro membership, recently questioned other eurozone measures.

EU officials are concerned in particular by Salvini's aversion to the EU rule that imposes on Italy to keep the public deficit below three percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

During his meeting with EPP's leaders Berlusconi said he is willing to "respect the three percent" rule.

He also reassured his EU interlocutors about Italy's relationship with the union, calling it "essential."

Berlusconi tried to make light of declarations made by Salvini, who on Tuesday said the three percent criteria would be "out of discussion" if it harms families and companies.

Salvini also said the same day that the euro was a "failed experiment", and the League does not rule out "any possibility" in advance in terms of a possible referendum on the single currency.

The party leader also said he will offer to the Italian electorate at the March poll two strongly anti-euro economists as candidates, Alberto Bagnai and Claudio Borghi.

Five Star threat

Berlusconi, however, also stressed the importance of the Italian centre-right as the only way to block the rise of the populist anti-EU Five Star Movement.

On Tuesday, the ex-pm called Five Star a dangerous "sect", that is ready to change its positions "depending on convenience."

Berlusconi said that populist parties such as Five Star are now "the main target of the EPP coalition."

As with the Northern League, Five Star are a source of concern and uncertainty in the EU establishment due to their financial commitments and calls to leave the euro.

Commenting on Five Star's candidate for prime minister, Luigi di Maio's, declarations about his willingness to break the three percent limit, economy commissioner Pierre Moscovici said on 16 January that "it's an absolute contradiction."

After Berlusconi's trip, European Parliament vice-president from the Five Star Movement Massimo Castaldo said that was a "paradox" that a person charged with fiscal fraud was touring the EU institutions.

Excellent talks

Yet Berlusconi received a enthusiastic welcome and a full endorsement by EPP colleagues, who several times in the past have strongly criticised him.

Jean Claude Juncker said their meeting was "excellent"

Berlusconi said on Monday that German chancellor Angela Merkel supported his coalition "with determination."

Forza Italia's leader expressed his best wishes for the German 'Grand Coalition' talks that, he said "will entail for Ms Merkel the opportunity to be still influential in Europe."

In December, Merkel reportedly sent Berlusconi her best wishes for the elections.

Endorsement came also from Manfred Weber, a German MEP who heads the European parliament's centre-right group, who said that is "great" being on the same page with Berlusconi, and called for "a strong Italy and a strong Europe."

EPP secretary general Antonio Lopez gave his "very clear support" to Forza Italia.

As for the issues discussed, commission officials said that "there was a good collaboration on all the European issues."

On Tuesday, Berlusconi explained that talks were about "EU issues concerning all the western world," including defence and migration.

Political rehabilitation

With his Brussels tour Berlusconi, who is ineligible to be prime minister himself for fraud against the state, obtained also a personal rehabilitation after his 2011 fall from grace and consequent abandonment by his fellow EPP family.

"Berlusconi doesn't need rehabilitation," said Weber. "He is a great statesman and a great European."

Commission warns Italy over high debt level

The Italian government must demonstrate it is making an effort, or the EU will consider launching a procedure. France and Romania are also under scrutiny.

Analysis

Sicily: Renzi finds Achilles heel in boot of Italy

Elections in Sicily at the weekend saw Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party trounced into third place - can the one-time wonder kid of Italian politics bounce back in time for 2018's national election?

Merkel defends her coalition government

The German chancellor admitted that the agreement with the social-democrats was "painful" but "acceptable", and insisted she wanted to stay in power for four years.

German coalition talks drag on

Christian Democrats and Social Democrats were still negotiating in the early hours of Wednesday. But the already agreed chapter on Europe is the "most Europeanised approach for years", says one expert.

Far-right parties re-register to access EU funds

After missing a funding deadline, the far-right nationalist Alliance for Peace and Freedom and the Alliance of European National Movements are back in the game and possibly eligible for EU money in 2019.

Commission tells Macron to pick political side

A European Commission paper calls on parties to show their colours before the May 2019 parliament elections, and to choose their successor to Juncker before the end of 2018.

News in Brief

  1. EU calls for immediate ceasefire in Syria
  2. UK's post-Brexit vision is 'pure illusion', Tusk says
  3. EU leaders express solidarity with Cyprus in Turkey drill row
  4. EU to double funding for Sahel forces
  5. EU parliament president: 'The immigration problem is Africa'
  6. May to unveil EU departure strategy next week
  7. Pregnant workers may be dismissed, EU court rules
  8. Romanian minister demands anti-corruption prosecutor fired

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeAnkara Ban on LGBTI Events Continues as Turkish Courts Reject NGO Appeals
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. EU agrees budget to focus on defence, security and migration
  2. EU leaders nix transnational lists, cool on 'Spitzenkandidat'
  3. Regions chief: calls for smaller EU budget are 'impossible'
  4. Election fever picks up This WEEK
  5. EU-Morocco fishing deal casts doubt on EU future foreign policy
  6. EU leaders put 'Spitzenkandidat' on summit menu
  7. European far-right political party risks collapse
  8. The key budget issues on EU leaders' table

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  3. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  4. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  5. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  6. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  8. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  10. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  11. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission
  12. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?