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Berlusconi, Schroeder Mend Fences - 2003-08-23

The Italian prime minister met the German chancellor Saturday for the first time since Italian-German relations took a severe knock earlier this summer. Both leaders emerged from a meeting in Verona saying relations are now back on course.

It was the first face-to-face meeting between Silvio Berlusconi and Gerhard Schroeder since the Italian prime minister angered the chancellor with what was considered a major political gaffe.

Addressing the European Parliament just one day after Italy took on the rotating presidency of the European Union on July 1, Mr. Berlusconi likened one German lawmaker present at the meeting to a Nazi concentration camp guard.

German politician Martin Shultz had criticized a recent law passed in Italy that froze the Italian prime minister's trial on corruption charges.

The comment which Mr. Berlusconi insisted was "simple irony", caused an uproar in Germany. Relations were made even worse a few days later when a junior tourism minister in Mr. Berlusconi's government referred to Germans as "arrogant belching blonds who invade Italy's beaches in the summer." The minister was forced to resign, but the damage was done, and the German chancellor immediately canceled a planned summer holiday to Italy.

However, as the two leaders emerged Saturday from their talks in Verona, they both insisted that all their differences had been put aside.

Mr. Berlusconi was supposed to attend an opera at the Verona arena with Mr. Schroeder Friday night but cancelled at the last minute for fear, he said, that protesters would try to disrupt the evening.

As it turned out, about 150 protesters did show up carrying anti-government banners, but they were kept well away from the arena as Mr. Schroeder and EU Commission President Romano Prodi enjoyed a performance of Carmen by Bizet.