Monday

26th Aug 2019

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

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?

Italy votes to become more eurosceptic

A hung parliament is expected, as preliminary results show a good outcome for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the anti-immigrant Northern League.

News in Brief

  1. Ocean Viking to disembark in Malta after ordeal
  2. Germany joins France in world outcry on Brazil fires
  3. British people lose faith in Brexit deal
  4. Brexit hardliners want further changes to EU deal
  5. German manufacturers confirm fear of recession
  6. Belgian socialists and liberals scrap over EU post
  7. Fall in EU migration leading to UK skills shortages
  8. Switzerland makes post-Brexit flight preparations

Who is the new EU parliament president, David Sassoli?

The 63-year-old centre-left Italian MEP was elected president of the European Parliament, with 345 votes. A former journalist, Sassoli has experience as a vice-president of the parliament, but is little known.

Parliament outmanoeuvred in EU top-post game

The European Parliament on Tuesday lost a years-long power struggle, and gave up winning more influence on European politics via the so-called Spitzenkandidat process it had championed.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Spain heading for yet another general election
  2. EU to discuss Brazil beef ban over Amazon fires
  3. 'Our house is burning,' Macron says on Amazon fires
  4. What happens when trafficking survivors get home
  5. EU states and Russia clash on truth of WW2 pact
  6. EU considers new rules on facial recognition
  7. EU to pledge Africa security funds at G7 summit
  8. Letter from the EESC on per diem article

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us