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Last Updated: Friday, 4 July, 2003, 06:13 GMT 07:13 UK
Nazi jibe row clouds EU talks
Silvio Berlusconi (left) and Gerhard Schroeder
Berlusconi (left) expressed regret to Schroeder
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will try to rescue the EU presidency at talks with European Commissioners on Friday after an embarrassing row with Germany.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he considered the matter "closed" after Mr Berlusconi told him he regretted likening German MEP Martin Schultz to a Nazi concentration camp guard during a speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday.

At a gala dinner on Thursday night, Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi told the 20-member EU Commission it could not allow "the painful polemics that shook the [European Parliament] debate to weigh on any future work".

I know that in Italy, there is a man producing a film on Nazi concentration camps - I shall put you forward for the part of guard
Silvio Berlusconi

But some MEPs have said they will not be satisfied unless Mr Berlusconi, whose country has assumed the EU presidency, apologises to the entire parliament.

The leader of Britain's Labour MEPs, Gary Titley, said: "Our message for Berlusconi is that this parliament must get the clear and unambiguous apology it deserves".

'Back to business'

Mr Berlusconi's outburst after he was heckled by Mr Schultz marred the start of Italy's six-month presidency and raised concern over his fitness to lead Europe through a period of enlargement and reform.

Roberta Manzetti
I think he is a clown - he should be an actor rather than a politician
Roberta Manzetti, travel agent

After his telephone call with the German chancellor, Mr Berlusconi's office sought to divert attention from the row.

"Both sides agreed that in the interests of Europe the Intergovernmental Conference on the European Constitution must have a successful conclusion during the Italian presidency," it said in a statement.

Mr Berlusconi will preside over the intergovernmental conference later in the year when it meets to complete work on the proposed new European constitution.

Domestic fallout

The Italian prime minister is due to hold the first official press conference of Italy's presidency with EU Commission President Romano Prodi - his sworn political enemy - at 1300 GMT on Friday.

He is expected to use the occasion to ease the tension caused by his remarks.

The BBC's Rome correspondent, David Willey, says Mr Berlusconi's gaffe continues to reverberate on the domestic Italian political scene.

The state broadcaster, RAI, has been accused by the left-wing opposition of toning down the coverage of Mr Berlusconi's blunder.

Our correspondent says the allegations of conflict of interest between the political role of Italy's richest man and his extensive media empire, which were the origin of the spat in Strasbourg, have still not been properly addressed by Mr Berlusconi.

He continues to exercise de facto control over most television broadcasting in Italy.

The BBC's Matt Prodger
"Perhaps the intention was to present a united front, but the atmosphere was distinctly flat"

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