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Wednesday, 9 January, 2002, 18:42 GMT
Analysis: Double trouble for Berlusconi?
Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi's double-act was last done by Mussolini
By Frances Kennedy in Rome

Italy's tycoon Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi marked his first day as Foreign Affairs Minister by declaring he was the "right man in the right job" - and that he was enjoying himself.

But not everyone shares Mr Berlusconi's confidence that he can pull off the double-role.


The millionaire's most memorable gaffe was during a visit to Berlin, when he asserted the superiority of Western civilisation over Islam

President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, who was a supporter of ousted Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero, hopes that the interim will be brief.

Even members of Mr Berlusconi's coalition have said they hope a suitable replacement will be found soon.

Left-leaning daily la Repubblica warned that the last man who attempted to combine the two top governmental posts for any length of time was wartime dictator Benito Mussolini - with disastrous results.


At a practical level, the sheer number of international engagements will create problems

Commentator Franco Venturini, writing in Milan's conservative daily Corriere della Sera, said the dual role would wear Mr Berlusconi out.

Professor Franco Pavoncello, a political scientist at Rome's John Cabot University, says Mr Berlusconi had no choice after Mr Ruggiero's resgination, as there was no-one he trusted to take on the role.

At a practical level, the sheer number of international engagements will create problems and Mr Berlusconi's full diary has already forced the deferral of two foreign encouters this week.

Mr Berlusconi's diplomatic track record since he was elected with a sweeping majority last May has been patchy.

Genoa debacle

The G8 summit in Genoa last July, which was to have been a showcase, saw any diplomatic progress overshadowed by the shooting dead of a protester by a young police officer.

Mr Berlusconi was criticised by foreign governments and media for police brutality and inefficiency.

The millionaire's most memorable gaffe was during a visit to Berlin, when he asserted the superiority of Western civilisation over Islam, provoking the wrath of moderate Arab leaders and embarrassment among European allies. Mr Berlusconi's subsequent claims to have been misquoted by a hostile, left-wing press were disproved by an audio transcript of the meeting.

Italian battles

Mr Berlusconi is keen for Italy to count more and not be seen as a yes-man in Europe.

However, apart from Italy's withdrawal from the joint European fighter project Airbus-400, his choice of battles has not always coincided with national interests.

He tried to block the European-wide arrest warrant, one of the cornerstones of an EU anti terrorism package, earning criticism that this was only to protect himself against an ongoing corruption probe by Spanish judges.

And at the Laeken summit, he vetoed a map of new sites for EU institutions because ham capital Parma was passed over for hosting the new food agency.

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