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Europe media lashes berlusconi eu presidency { July 1 2003 }

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Europe's media lashes Berlusconi as Italy takes over EU presidency
PATRICK QUINN, Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, July 1, 2003
2003 Associated Press

(07-01) 05:13 PDT ATHENS, Greece (AP) --

Greece handed over the rotating European Union presidency to Italy on Tuesday as newspapers across the continent recoiled at the idea that the flamboyant Italian premier was now the face of Europe.

During its six-month tenure, Italy's presidency will have to deal with an EU preparing to grow from 15 to 25 members next year and help prepare the final text of the organization's first-ever constitution.

The spotlight, however, will fall on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, already a focus of scandal for his legal problems, his business empire and his stronghold on Italian television.

From Athens to Stockholm, newspapers with few exceptions published scathing front page stories and editorials Tuesday about Berlusconi. Many drew attention to a decision by an Italian court to suspended his bribery trial the day before Italy took over the presidency.

An editorial in the Stockholm's Expressen tabloid called him "An impossible chairman."

"Berlusconi is maybe the most extreme example of two of Italy's most sad traditions; corruption and mistrust of politicians," it said. "His premiership has raised serious questions about the Italian democracy. Berlusconi's love for mixing his role as a dominating media owner with his role as a politician and head of government is painfully evident."

Berlin's daily Berliner Zeitung took the attack a step further.

"He's our president now -- a man whose hand we would not shake voluntarily. A shady dealmaker who ... has used his political and economic power to ensure that all proceedings (against him) ran into to the sand and who, thanks to his lack of scruples, became the richest man in Italy at the same time," it said.

In Greece, newspapers said Europeans would look back with fondness to Premier Costas Simitis, an uninspiring economics professor who fought to balance Europe's divisions on Iraq.

"Europe is trembling at the thought of Silvio," the Athens daily To Vima said.

A cartoon in the Athens daily Ethnos showed a leotard-clad Simitis coming off a circus high-wire as Berlusconi entered the big tent dressed as a clown.

In Madrid, the daily El Pais also took issue with Berlusconi's penchant for clowning.

"One can question the seriousness of a government led by a person who seeks laughs and effect rather than depth," said its editorial titled "Fear of Berlusconi."

Although much of the commentary around Europe focused on Berlusconi's problems, there were also concerns about his take on Europe and comments favoring quick EU membership for countries like Russia and Turkey.

"Someone who repeatedly and fervently demands the admission of Russia and Turkey to the EU shows little feeling for the political and cultural mesh which binds the EU together," Germany's Die Welt said.

French dailies also took offense with Berlusconi's support for the United States over Iraq and his fervor to mend the trans-Atlantic relationship during Italy's presidency.

"Questions have to be asked about the intentions of Mr. Berlusconi," Le Monde wrote, adding that he "has adopted Atlanticist positions without taking account of criticisms made by his partners."

Not all commentary was critical.

In London, The Times said it was looking forward to Berlusconi's chairmanship, insisting it promises to inject some much needed energy into EU proceedings.

"The EU is all too full of gray politicos," it wrote. "The constitutional quarrels ahead call for persuasive leadership -- and the presentational skills required to convince bored and cynical electorates that the result really will make Europe more comprehensible, and more accountable too."

2003 Associated Press

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