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EU Attempts to Heal German-Italian Rift - 2003-07-04


Italy and the European Commission get down to work Friday on the priorities for Rome's EU presidency. Both are anxious to heal a rift between Italy and Germany that threatened to derail Italy's six-month presidency almost before it had begun.

Italy and the European Commission will be anxious to put the emphasis on policy at the meeting in Rome. The meeting, considered an exchange of views on Rome's priorities for the next six months, comes following what many Italians and other Europeans considered a disastrous start to the EU presidency.

Fears over Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's fitness to lead Europe during a delicate period of reform and enlargement were confirmed this week when he told a German member of the European parliament in his opening speech in Strasbourg that he should be cast as a Nazi camp guard in a film.

Mr. Berlusconi on Thursday expressed his regrets for his words to the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and won a political reprieve. Following a telephone conversation, Mr. Schroeder said he considered the matter closed.

Now, the Italian prime minister's office is keen to give the impression that normal business will resume. But many are concerned about the upcoming six months, saying Mr. Berlusconi kicked off Italy's EU presidency in the worst possible way.

One of the main issues on the upcoming agenda is the proposed new European constitution, which Italy hopes will be completed during its presidency. 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 - later on Friday.

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