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Last Updated: Monday, 7 July, 2003, 19:45 GMT 20:45 UK
Berlusconi seeks constitution deal
Silvio Berlusconi at Lake Como
Berlusconi called for a Europe speaking with "one voice"
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said his country will use the "art of mediation" to reach agreement on the new European constitution during its six-month European Union presidency.

In his first major public address since his controversial attack on a German MEP in Strasbourg last week, Mr Berlusconi said at a conference on the shores of Lake Como, that Italy was not a country which infringed on freedoms.

Mr Berlusconi has refused to apologise for remarks, in which he compared MEP Martin Schulz to a Nazi concentration camp guard.

Meanwhile, the Italian Senate is due to debate a new media bill on Tuesday which is expected to allow Mr Berlusconi's business empire a greater share of the Italian media.

The prime minister currently controls around 90% of Italian television through his family's ownership of commercial channels and his influence over the state broadcaster RAI.

The extent of Mr Berlusconi's grip on power, and the passing of an immunity law which in effect ended a corruption trial against him, prompted protests by left-wing MEPs which resulted in last week's outburst.

And the row looked set to continue, with the parliament's Socialist leader, Gary Titley, saying that the delay to issue an apology would "poison" Italy's presidency.

'Crucial presidency'

But Mr Berlusconi seemed to try to put the incident behind him, setting out Italy's aims for the presidency.

"The Italian presidency of the European Union will be no ordinary administration. On the contrary, it will be a crucial presidency," he said.

It would lead to a Europe capable of speaking with "one voice" and sharing the values of democracy and freedom with its partner the United States, he added.

He said his government expected European Convention chairman Valery Giscard d'Estaing to hand over the remainder of the draft constitution on 18 July.

Italy would seek a European-wide consensus on curbing illegal immigration, he said, while continuing to offer "a real welcome to those who come legally" to work there.

The BBC's Jonathan Charles
"He looks set to fuel another long running row"

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