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Sunday, 6 January, 2002, 18:10 GMT
Berlusconi becomes foreign minister
Silvio Berlusconi (left) and Renato Ruggiero
On his own now: Berlusconi (l) will do Ruggiero's job too
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has named himself foreign minister following the resignation of Renato Ruggiero.

Mr Berlusconi was sworn in by Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, and he will continue as prime minister while holding the foreign portfolio.

Renato Ruggiero
Renato Ruggiero was unhappy at the way Italy adopted the euro
Mr Ruggiero resigned after a disagreement with other cabinet members over the government's unenthusiastic response to the new euro currency.

Officials close to Mr Berlusconi said he might remain in the post for several months, although BBC Rome correspondent David Willey says it is unclear how the prime minister will manage to do both jobs.

Mr Ruggiero had a full diary for January, with a number of meetings scheduled with other European ministers.


Several senior European politicians have mourned Mr Ruggiero's departure.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer described Mr Ruggiero as a convinced European, while his French counterpart Hubert Vedrine said he enjoyed considerable esteem within the European Union.

The Belgian Foreign Minister, Louis Michel, said Mr Ruggiero's departure was bad news, because he had helped moderate the lack of faith in the European Union among other members of Mr Berlusconi's coalition.

And in Italy, the business daily Il Sole-24 Ore noted that Mr Ruggiero's "inexhaustible heritage of international contacts would have constituted a precious asset for any government, particularly Silvio Berlusconi's".

Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi: Reacted badly to Ruggiero's attack
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.

Difficult position

Our correspondent says that 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.

Italy was the only country participating in the currency not to organise celebrations for the advent of the currency at the new year.

One Italian minister has said he "couldn't care a hoot" about the single currency, and others have cast doubts over 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
"He'll have to perform a delicate balancing act"
Former Italian Environment Minister, Bob Lasagne
"It is an indication of a split... within the bureaucracy of Italy"
Beppe Severigni, Economist correspondent
"It is all so... strange and weird because Italy has been the euro-phoric country"
See also:

07 Jan 02 | Europe
European press review
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