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Sunday, 6 January, 2002, 08:20 GMT
Italian minister quits in euro row
Renato Ruggiero
Ruggiero: Fell out with cabinet colleagues
Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero has resigned after a disagreement with other cabinet members over the government's unenthusiastic reception of the new euro currency.

According to the office of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the two men agreed on "consensual" parting.

Opposition is not strong - it is very strong

Renato Ruggiero, former Italian foreign minister

On Thursday, Mr Ruggiero, one of the strongest pro-European voices in Mr Berlusconi's centre-right team, strongly criticised his cabinet colleagues for negative attitudes towards the European Union.

The following day, Mr Berlusconi retorted that he was in charge of Italy's foreign policy, and Mr Ruggiero was merely a "technical" functionary carrying out his policies.

Mr Ruggiero's attack followed statements by several ministerial colleagues expressing scepticism about the euro.

Blow to Berlusconi

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says Mr Ruggiero's resignation, coming in the very week that Italy adopted the currency, puts the Berlusconi administration in a difficult position with its European partners.

Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi: Reacted badly to Ruggiero's attack
Italy was the only EU country not to organise celebrations for the arrival of the euro at the new year.

One Italian minister has said he "couldn't care a hoot" about the single currency, and others have cast doubts about further European integration.

Prior to his decision to resign, Mr Ruggiero had warned that Italy's traditional commitment to the EU was at risk.

"I see this continuity put in danger by very serious declarations. I cannot deny that I am extremely worried," he said in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

"Opposition is not strong - it is very strong."

Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti and Defence Minister Antonio Martino - both members of Mr Berlusconi's Forza Italia party - are among those who have given the euro a distinctly lukewarm reception.

On Saturday, the European Commission said Italy was still trailing in last place in terms of euro cash transactions, along with France and Spain.

Against a euro zone average of 55%, these three countries are running below 50%.

In the Netherlands and Greece, the figure is above 80%.

The BBC's David Willey in Rome
"Ruggiero made no secret of his scorn for the eurosceptics in the cabinet"
See also:

03 Jan 02 | Europe
Italian cabinet divided on EU
11 Dec 01 | Europe
Italy U-turn on arrest warrant
08 Dec 01 | Europe
Italy heads for EU showdown
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