20th Oct 2019

Berlusconi defends actions on Constitution talks

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appeared before the European Parliament today (16 December) to defend the way he handled the Constitution talks amid fierce criticism from several MEPs.

Mr Berlusconi said he had decided to call a halt to the talks on Saturday (13 December), which fell apart because member states could not agree on a new voting system and, "because it was running the risk of becoming antagonistic".

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He argued instead that a true failure would have been an agreement that was "a step backwards".

However, for several MEPs he made too light of the failure of the talks and simply gave up too soon.

Liberal leader Graham Watson was the strongest in his criticism. "It is hard to escape the conclusion that this Presidency and this IGC have been a personal failure for the President of the European Council", he said.

"The President came to the IGC poorly prepared; he ignored the warnings of this house that holding back compromise proposals would produce this kind of stalemate", he went on.

Similarly, Enrique Baron Crespo, the socialist leader, said that while Mr Berlusconi's football team AC Milan had done well over the weekend, the Italian Prime Minister had not made it into the second half.

Giorgio Napolitano, the head of the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee, said that as Italy was one of the founding members of the EU "it could have played a more decisive role in stimulating the integration process".

"You failed because of your own weaknesses", said Green MEP Johannes Voggenhuber.

How to move on

Several MEPs also expressed concern that what was actually agreed by member states on the Constitution, which still remains unclear, would now be lost.

UK Liberal MEP Andrew Duff said that "a solid agreement was closer to being reached than is frequently appreciated".

Elmar Brok, a German EPP member, said, "I have a major concern that everything will run into the sand".

"The problem with postponing a decision by kicking it into the long grass is that you might not find it again", said Mr Watson.

The Italian Presidency tried to reassure MEPs on this point saying that it would consult with the incoming Irish presidency which takes on the EU mantle on 1 January, 2004.

"I am convinced we will get an agreement on this", said Mr Berlusconi.

For its part the Irish Presidency will be examining the latest document - agreed during the failed summit after a series of bilateral meetings between member states.

However, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern was pessimistic about whether there will be intergovernmental talks on the Constitution within his presidency which runs until the end of June; it will all depend on the "atmosphere".

At the moment, "that atmosphere is not there", said the Taoiseach speaking to journalists on Saturday (13 December).

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