Saturday

3rd Dec 2016

Focus

Centre-right EPP stuck with ‘sickening’ Berlusconi

  • Italian graffiti saying 'Berlusconi, go away' (Photo: Nela Lazarevic)

The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) will not expel Silvio Berlusconi from its ranks, despite his embarrassing remarks on Germany’s Nazi past, because they need his Forza Italia party to win next month’s European Parliament elections, media controlled by the former Italian premier has suggested.

“The EPP attacks (Berlusconi), but without Forza Italia it cannot win,” Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by Berlusconi’s brother Paolo, ran on its front page Tuesday (29 April).

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

It referred to the previous day’s stinging criticism from the EPP election frontrunner, former Luxembourg premier Jean-Claude Juncker, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is arguably the most influential politician within the centre-right family.

“The recent statements made by Mr Berlusconi have sickened me,” Juncker said in a statement. In Berlin, Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said Berlusconi’s remarks were “so absurd that the federal government will not comment on them”.

The incident originated on Saturday, when, speaking at a campaign event for his Forza Italia party, Berlusconi recalled his infamous 2003 ‘joke,’ when he offered German Social Democrat Martin Schulz a film part as a Nazi concentration camp guard during a debate in the European Parliament.

"God forbid! Because for Germans, concentration camps did not exist," Berlusconi said on Saturday. "It's not like it was an insult, I was bantering, I was joking with my usual humour, in a very ironic way (...) I was being kind, I thought I could offer him a new job."

Schulz, the outgoing President of the European Parliament, is Juncker’s main rival in the EU election race, standing as the lead candidate of the Party of European Socialists (PES).

Most commentators interpreted the outburst as a ploy to intercept protest voters by stirring up anti-German sentiment. Berlusconi, a tax fraud convict due to start community service in a centre for the elderly, is battling to revive the fortunes of Forza Italia, stuck in third place in opinion polls behind the ruling Democratic Party and Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement.

In Germany, members of his Social Democratic Party (SPD) have dared Merkel to confront her Italian ally more openly.

“It is unacceptable for Angela Merkel, in the name of party political reasons, to stay silent on the outrageous allegations of the former Italian prime minister,” SPD deputy leader Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel told dpa news agency.

But Ingeborg Graessle, an outgoing MEP from Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), has admitted to Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper that if Berlusconi’s Forza Italia were to be kicked out of the EPP, the party “would risk ending up in second place after the PES”.

“That would pave the way for Schulz to become President of the European Commission. A possibility that us German Christian Democrats are fighting against with all our forces,” she said.

In its latest forecast from 23 April, the PollWatch2014 website said the EPP could expect to win 217 seats in the EU assembly, against 208 for the PES. Forza Italia would contribute to the EPP’s tally with 15-20 MEPs.

With those figures behind him, Berlusconi remains unrepentant, snubbing an explicit request from Juncker to withdraw his comments and apologise to the German people and Holocaust survivors.

“I owe no apology to my Israeli friends,” Berlusconi said on Italy’s LA7 channel late on Monday. “Neither” should he say sorry to Germans, he added, insisting that he had said “nothing against current German citizens.”

In another TV appearance on Tuesday, on one of his family’s Mediaset channels, he said the five-term chancellor from the 1980s and 1990s Helmut Kohl was a far better leader than Merkel, and said Italians “should learn to be afraid” of Grillo, whom he compared to Marx, Lenin and Hitler.

EU parliament approves Juncker commission

MEPs have approved Juncker's new EU commission, with a slightly smaller majority than in 2010, and following a number of concessions on portfolios.

News in Brief

  1. Talks on wholesale roaming rules to start
  2. Lead MEP Dieselgate committee: Italy and Slovakia will cooperate
  3. Transparency NGO sues EU commission on Turkey deal
  4. Pro-EU liberal wins UK by-election
  5. Finnish support for Nato drops, Russia-scepticism grows
  6. Cyprus talks to resume in January
  7. Documents from German NSA inquiry released
  8. Transport commissioner 'not aware' of legal action on emissions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Gaming & Betting AssociationContinues to Grow its Membership and Welcomes its Newest Member Association
  2. ACCASupports the Women of Europe Awards, Celebrating the Women who are Building Europe
  3. European Heart NetworkWhat About our Kids? Protect Children From Unhealthy Food and Drink Marketing
  4. ECR GroupRestoring Trust and Confidence in the European Parliament
  5. UNICEFChild Rights Agencies Call on EU to put Refugee and Migrant Children First
  6. MIRAIA New Vision on Clean Tech: Balancing Energy Efficiency, Climate Change and Costs
  7. World VisionChildren Cannot Wait! 7 Priority Actions to Protect all Refugee and Migrant Children
  8. ANCI LazioRegio-Mob Project Delivers Analysis of Trasport and Mobility in Rome
  9. SDG Watch EuropeCivil Society Disappointed by the Commission's Plans for Sustainable Development Goals
  10. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhD Positions Open – The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU (PLATO)
  11. Access NowTell the EU Council: Protect our Rights to Privacy and Security
  12. ACCAThe Future of Audit Means Adaption to Today’s Global and Digital World