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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 July, 2003, 22:37 GMT 23:37 UK
Berlusconi lashes out at critics
Silvio Berlusconi
Mr Berlusconi may get a rough ride in the European parliament
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has struck back at his international critics as he prepares to address the European Parliament on Wednesday.

Mr Berlusconi - the subject of harsh attacks in the European press a day earlier - said no one was entitled to lecture Italians about ethics.

"Let this be said politely: Nobody can teach morality lessons to the government elected by the Italian people," he wrote in a newspaper article appearing on Wednesday.

Mr Berlusconi is scheduled to lay out his ambitious agenda for the six-month Italian presidency of the EU - but members of the European Parliament are not expected to be a welcoming audience.

As EU president, Berlusconi will not in the end be judged on the basis of his run-ins with the judiciary or his conflicts of interest
Corriere della Sera

Green members of the European parliament are planning a protest in which they will hoist banners proclaiming: "The law is equal for all."

Mr Berlusconi took over the EU reins at midnight on 1 July, hours after a Milan court suspended his trial on charges of bribery under a controversial new immunity law.

The Berliner Zeitung described Mr Berlusconi as "a man whose hand we would not willingly shake" on Tuesday.

The French daily Liberation called him a "danger to Europe", while Le Monde voiced concern that his strongly pro-American position put him at odds with some other European leaders.

Italy's programme

On Monday, the billionaire businessman said he would aim to restore good relations between Europe and the US, which were damaged by the Iraq war.

"The West must be united," he told France's Europe 1 radio.

"One can be very European... and also be a friend of the biggest democracy in the world, the United States."

Italy's other priorities for the next six months include:

  • Opening an inter-governmental conference on the new EU constitution in October
  • Promoting peace in the Middle East, possibly by holding a peace conference in Sicily
  • A "New Deal" to boost big infrastructure projects in Europe financed by European Investment Bank bonds
  • Immigration - Italy supports the idea of immigrant holding centres outside the EU
  • Pensions - Mr Berlusconi has proposed a common approach enshrined in an EU-wide treaty

Some members of the European parliament are reported to be concerned by his pro-American stance and his call for the EU to be further enlarged to include Turkey, Russia and Israel.

Demonstration

They are also expected to criticise the immunity law hastily passed by the Italian parliament to save Mr Berlusconi the embarrassment of court appearances during Italy's EU presidency.

Romano Prodi

Mr Berlusconi will also give a news conference on Wednesday with the president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, one of his biggest rivals in Italian politics.

Mr Prodi said on Tuesday that he and Mr Berlusconi - whom he once compared to Goebbels - would work together during the Italian presidency.

"It will be a co-operative presidency. We should work together. There is no problem," he said.

In his radio interview on Monday, Mr Berlusconi outraged the Italian left by accusing the country's "leftist" press of inspiring the foreign media criticism of him.

"This is a terrible beginning," said former left-wing Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema.

"To export our internal rows in such a crude fashion will not win back credibility for our country."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Patrick Bartlett
"Mr Berlusconi faces a host of pressing issues"



SEE ALSO:
Berlusconi immunity challenged
30 Jun 03  |  Europe
Profile: Silvio Berlusconi
01 Jul 03  |  Europe
Berlusconi granted immunity
18 Jun 03  |  Europe
Brussels plays down Prodi row
06 May 03  |  Europe
Berlusconi set to ride out storm
30 Apr 03  |  Europe


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