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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 May, 2003, 18:37 GMT 19:37 UK
Brussels plays down Prodi row
Romano Prodi
Prodi will not sue, the European Commission says
The European Commission has shrugged off an attack on its president, Romano Prodi, made by Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi during courtroom testimony.

Mr Berlusconi, defending himself against corruption charges, said Mr Prodi had agreed to sell a firm at below its market value as a "gift" to a political ally.

The clash between the two men - from the right and left of Italian politics respectively - raises concerns about the effectiveness of Italy's impending spell as European president.

You could not imagine a more explosive start for... the odd couple who have to smile and lead Europe very soon
Corriere della Sera newspaper
But a commission spokesman said Mr Prodi had "no intention" of suing and the remarks were of no concern to the commission.

There were no concerns, he added, that the affair could damage Italy's presidency, which will mean the two Italian men working closely together.

"It does not worry us, not at all," said commission spokesman Reijo Kemppinen.

"I am convinced that preparations for the Italian presidency will continue and we are ready to work with the future presidency."

Mr Prodi is due to hold his next meeting with Mr Berlusconi in 4 July, at the start of Italy's six-month spell as president.

THE SME SAGA
April 1985: Agreement on sale of SME to Carlo De Benedetti
PM Bettino Craxi orders deal to be scrapped
Berlusconi and others make higher offer
De Benedetti asks court to reinstate original deal
July 1986: Court rules against De Benedetti
1993/4: SME is finally broken up and sold
1995: Berlusconi et al charged with bribing judges in 1986
The allegations from Mr Berlusconi centred on a period in 1985, when left-winger Mr Prodi was chairman of Italy's state-sector holding company IRI.

Mr Prodi, he alleged, agreed to sell the SME food company at a knock-down price to a left-wing Berlusconi business rival, Carlo De Benedetti.

Mr Berlusconi is facing charges of bribing judges during the take-over battle which followed, as he fought to stop Mr De Benedetti's bid going through.

Despite the commission's attempts to play down the affair, commentators warned that the six-month period of Italy's EU presidency could be a rough ride.

"You could not imagine a more explosive start for...the odd couple who have to smile and lead Europe very soon," said a front-page editorial in Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Berlusconi gives evidence
Berlusconi denies the charges against him
The paper also recounted some of the previous low points in what is said to be a long and bitter relationship between the two men.

Mr Berlusconi once dismissed Mr Prodi as "that nice cyclist", the paper said.

Mr Prodi is said to have observed: "Compared to Berlusconi, Goebbels was just a child."

Mr Berlusconi denies the corruption charges against him. He is on trial in Milan, where he accuses the judges of being left-wingers who are biased against him.

He is the first serving Italian prime minister to appear at his own trial.

A verdict is expected in the summer, which could embarrass Mr Berlusconi as Italy takes over the presidency of the European Union.

Last week Mr Berlusconi's former personal lawyer was given an 11-year jail term by Milan judges for bribery in two different cases.


SEE ALSO:
Berlusconi appears in court
05 May 03  |  Europe
Berlusconi set to ride out storm
30 Apr 03  |  Europe
Italian PM attacks judiciary
30 Jan 03  |  Europe
Country profile: Italy
26 Mar 03  |  Country profiles


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