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Monday, 14 May, 2001, 20:59 GMT 21:59 UK
Europe watches as Italy shifts right
Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi's past - and his allies - are causing concern
By diplomatic correspondent
Barnaby Mason

The election victory by Italian media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi has been watched with great attention and some alarm across Europe.

The campaign saw unprecedented media criticism of him abroad, with allegations that he was unfit to govern Italy.

But political reaction so far has been careful.

The French Foreign Minister, Hubert Vedrine, said Europe would be attentive to the actions of the new government and, if necessary, vigilant.

Hubert Vedrine
Vedrine: Europe will be vigilant

Some of the concern among Italy's European Union partners is due to Mr Berlusconi's alliance with the post-fascists and with the Euro-sceptic and anti-immigrant Northern League, whose leader specialises in inflammatory rhetoric.

The new right-wing administration in Rome could strengthen those voices in the EU that oppose the early enlargement of the union to the east.

But the Northern League did badly in the election, and left-wing opinion in Europe is relieved to think it will now have less influence.

Denmark believed the close outcome would mean the new Italian Government staying fairly close to the centre.

Neighbours' concerns

In any event, it is clear there is no appetite for the kind of diplomatic sanctions imposed on Austria last year when Joerg Haider's far-right Freedom Party joined the government there.

Poll
The result could strengthen the hand of Europe's anti-expansion camp

There is still concern that the deep tax cuts Mr Berlusconi has promised will make it difficult for him to keep Italy's budget deficit within the limits demanded by the single European currency.

And unease persists beneath the surface about conflicts of interest and the numerous criminal charges brought against him for alleged corruption - all of which he denies.

Three convictions have been quashed, but other charges are pending.

Mr Berlusconi already has three television stations, and with the state channel he is now expected to control about 90% of national television broadcasting.

The Economist magazine in Britain said he was unfit to govern, and similar attacks were mounted by French and Spanish newspapers.

Mr Berlusconi has given no clear answer to complaints about the conflict of interest between his commercial and political interests, especially his control of television channels.

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See also:

14 May 01 | Europe
Temperatures rise in chaotic poll
10 May 01 | Europe
Italy gears up for close election
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