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Italy's Foreign Minister Resigns Over Euro Dispute - 2002-01-06


Italy's foreign minister, Renato Ruggiero, has resigned following a disagreement with the prime minister over the government's unenthusiastic reception of the new euro currency. Mr. Ruggiero believes the Italian government has not shown a positive attitude toward the European Union.

The Italian prime minister's office issued a statement late Saturday night saying Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Foreign Minister Ruggiero had agreed on "consensual" parting. The resignation of Mr. Ruggiero follows criticism he voiced in the press of Cabinet members who spoke skeptically about the arrival of the euro currency.

Italy's defense minister said this week that the "euro experience could end in failure." The reform minister said he "couldn't care less" about the single currency, and others, including the economy minister, cast doubts about further European integration.

Mr. Ruggiero warned that Italy's traditional commitment to the EU was at risk.

In an interview with an Italian daily newspaper, Mr. Ruggiero said, quote: "I see this continuity put in danger by very serious declarations. I cannot deny that I am extremely worried."

In response to these declarations, Prime Minister Berlusconi said he alone was in charge of Italy's foreign policy and that Mr. Ruggiero was merely a "technical" functionary carrying out his policies. That was too much to take for the foreign minister.

Mr. Ruggiero is a respected Italian diplomat, who has headed the World Trade Organization. He had no ties to any party in Mr. Berlusconi's center-right coalition government.

Mr. Ruggiero has always been committed to the European Union, and had accepted the post of foreign minister at the urging of the Italian president.

Angry opposition politicians have now demanded an emergency debate in parliament over the foreign minister's resignation. They say Italy's image at an international level will be greatly damaged by Mr. Ruggiero's departure.

A replacement is to be appointed by the prime minister in the next few days.

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