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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 June, 2005, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
'Playboy' Berlusconi irks Finland
President of Finland Tarja Halonen
Silvio Berlusconi used tender pleas on Finnish President Tarja Halonen
Italy's Silvio Berlusconi has stunned the Finnish government by saying he used his "playboy" charms on the country's president, Tarja Halonen.

The Finnish government called in the Italian ambassador over the issue.

Mr Berlusconi's gaffe followed Italy's success in hosting the European Food Safety Authority, which opened in Parma on Tuesday, instead of Finland.

Adding fuel to the flames, Mr Berlusconi poured scorn on Finnish food, saying he had had to "endure" it.

"There is absolutely no comparison between culatello (speciality ham) from Parma and smoked reindeer," Mr Berlusconi was quoted as saying.

His comments drew criticism from Italian opposition MPs, who called on him to apologise.

But Mr Berlusconi's spokesman said there was no diplomatic crisis and it was simply "a nice thing to say; a way of showing friendliness at a festive occasion".

In Helsinki, Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said: "The matter is closed; I have nothing against Italian food; I love spaghetti, as long as it's not too spicy."

'Nazi' gaffe

It is not the first time Mr Berlusconi's comments have ruffled diplomatic feathers - nor is it the first time Finland has been on the receiving end.

Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi

"I know that in Italy there is a man producing a film on Nazi concentration camps - I shall put you forward for the role of Kapo [guard]" - to German MEP Martin Schulz

"Another reason to invest in Italy is that we have beautiful secretaries... superb girls" - to New York Stock Exchange

"The West will continue to conquer peoples, even if it means a confrontation with another civilisation, Islam" - after 9/11

In 2001, he told the European Union that Finland did not deserve the food safety agency as "Finns don't even know what prosciutto is".

Regarding his tactics in persuading Mrs Halonen, Mr Berlusconi reportedly said: "When you seek a result, it's necessary to use all available weapons and therefore I brushed up all my playboy skills, now from the distant past, and I used a series of tender pleas to the president."

Mr Berlusconi has become notorious for making comments that others regard as tasteless.

He famously told German MEP Martin Schulz that he would be dream casting for a Nazi concentration camp guard in a forthcoming Italian film.

The remark, made at the launch of Italy's presidency of the European Union in 2003, caused huge offence in Germany and - after Mr Berlusconi refused to apologise - a diplomatic rift between the two nations.

Country profile: Italy
24 Apr 05 |  Country profiles

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