Berlusconi calls for EU-US unity on pre-election trip to Washington
Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has urged unity between Europe and the US in a common fight against Islamic extremism.
In his speech to a joint session of the US congress on Wednesday (1 March), Mr Berlusconi called for "a grand alliance of all democracies" and warned against a "politically dangerous" tendency in Europe to stand apart from Washington, according to press reports.
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"A conception of European unity founded on a fanciful wish for self-sufficiency would be morally suspect and politically dangerous," he said, according to the New York Times.
"The West is, and shall remain, one... We cannot have two Wests. Europe needs America and America needs Europe," added Mr Berlusconi, his words leading to a standing ovation.
While highlighting common transatlantic efforts to fight international terrorism, the Italian prime minister avoided controversial aspects of the war in Iraq, let alone the fact that Rome is planning to pull out its troops from the country by the end of this year.
Strong allies crucial before elections
The broadcast of the speech on Italian television channels owned by Mr Berlusconi’s Mediaset was viewed with dismay in Italy, with the opposition complaining of yet another pre-election move by the campaigning leader.
Mr Berlusconi was just the seventh personality to appear before the top US legislature during George W Bush's administration, following Washington's key allies such as British prime minister Tony Blair, Spanish ex-leader Jose Maria Aznar, Afghan president Hamid Karzai and Ukraine's president Viktor Yushchenko.
According to the Financial Times, the move was even criticised by some US Democrat deputies, rebuffing the move as designed to boost Mr Berlusconi's position before the parliamentary elections in his country, scheduled for 9-10 April.
Recent polls show that the Italian prime minister is currently losing to the center-left coalition, led by the ex-president of the European Commission Romano Prodi.
The Italian economy is currently facing grave problems, with zero growth as well as a looming state budget deficit and debt.
But analysts also point out that the left-leaning opposition is politically weak and fragmented, as opposed to the strongly knit center-right Forza Italia party of Mr Berlusconi.
Moreover, the Italian leader is gaining political points thanks to his powerful media campaign, both due to his strong links with media and his own media-friendly character.
Experts point out he has been on TV or the radio every day, with declarations like a promise to abstain from sex until after election day, or comparing himself to Churchill, Napoleon and Jesus Christ.