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Berlusconi Defends Foreign Policy - 2002-01-14

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has declared that his government will pursue a foreign policy that benefits Italy and Europe. The prime minister was answering critics who have questioned his government's commitment to European integration.

Prime Minister Berlusconi went before parliament to defend his government's policy toward Europe. The center-left opposition had requested the debate following the prime minister's decision to add the foreign ministry portfolio to his duties.

Mr. Berlusconi assumed the added duties after the resignation earlier this month of his government's foreign minister, Renato Ruggiero. Mr. Ruggiero said he quit to protest what he called "Euro-skeptic remarks" by fellow cabinet ministers.

Italy's position in Europe, declared Mr. Berlusconi at the start of his parliamentary speech, is as solid as ever and maybe more than ever. The government and its foreign policy are in excellent health, he added.

Mr. Berlusconi said he had taken on the job of interim foreign minister "with enthusiasm" and that he would retain the post for "as long as necessary." He also defended his government's right to pursue its foreign policy as it deemed best.

No European or world government, Mr. Berlusconi said, has ever doubted the Italian government's right to establish autonomously the path to be followed by its foreign policy and to be able to choose in this phase, new ideas, new instruments and new people to realize it.

Mr. Berlusconi also put his weight behind the new European currency, making clear Italy was in favor of the change.

The euro works, he said. This is a beautiful and incontestable truth. The currency is already a popular symbol of the citizens of the continent. Mr. Berlusconi then said that by the end of the month Italy would appoint its representatives to the European convention that would design the future institutions of the EU.

The Italian government leader also reiterated that his cabinet would continue to pursue a strongly European program.

The commitment of this government majority, Mr. Berlusconi said, is to change Italy, to modernize the state, to re-launch the economy, giving more power and responsibility to individuals and removing the obstacles to progress and innovation. All this, Mr. Berlusconi affirmed, cannot be done alone, without staying firmly anchored in Europe.

Despite Mr. Berlusconi's calls to the opposition to end the controversy over the government's position toward Europe, members of the center-left were openly critical of his speech. They called it propaganda, adding that the government leader had failed to provide any real answers to the issue in question.