Europe’s right exposed after Berlusconi’s ‘soft’ letters to Putin – EURACTIV.com
Silvio Berlusconi has once again stirred up trouble in Italian politics after revealing he exchanged ‘sweet’ letters with his ‘true’ long-time friend, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The scandal exposed Europe’s centre-right leadership, which secured Berlusconi’s pro-EU credentials just before the election, while causing further headaches for Giorgia Meloni, who is struggling to form a government.
“I have a little, a lot restored relations with President Putin,” Forza Italia leader Berlusconi said in a closed-door meeting with his MPs amid difficult talks in Rome on the formation of a a new government.
“For my birthday he sent me twenty bottles of vodka and a very sweet letter, and I replied with bottles of Lambrusco and an equally sweet letter. He [Putin] described me as the first of his five real friends,” he said according to an audio file released by The Press.
Asked by reporters for an explanation, Berlusconi said his remarks referred to a historic episode and denied a resumption of relations with Putin. However, the audio file had already caused damage to him.
The reconnection of the two old friends mainly worries the leader of the Brotherhood of Italy and most likely the next Prime Minister Meloni, who, according to press reports, is considering the Ministry of Justice for Berlusconi and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for another member. by Forza Italia, Antonio Tajani.
Dissatisfaction with the EPP
Berlusconi’s statement not only derails Meloni’s efforts to form a government, but also exposes his political family in Brussels, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).
During the election campaign, EPP President Manfred Weber urged Italians to vote for Forza Italia to guarantee its pro-European orientation.
“It is very clear that (the center-right coalition) is in favor of European integration, reiterates transatlantic cooperation with our American friends, the role in NATO and European values,” Weber said during his stay. in Rome ahead of the September 25 election. .
Since then, Berlusconi has proven the opposite. A few weeks ago he said: “Putin had only to replace the government of Zelensky with a government of honest people” and that “Russian troops should only have stopped around Kyiv”.
In his new statements, he pointed out that “Russian ministers said that we are already at war with them because we supply arms and funds to Ukraine. I am very, very, very worried.”
According to the head of the Partido Democrático delegation to the EU Chamber, MEP Brando Benifei, it is clear that the long-standing friendship between Berlusconi and Putin is still strong and threatens the new Italian government as well as the Europe itself.
“The Lega (ID) and Berlusconi have relations with an enemy of peace in Europe. I wonder what Weber and the other EPP parties will have to say. It would be necessary to seek clarification or take action against Forza Italia,” Benifei told EURACTIV Italy.
In an interview with EURACTIV ahead of the election, Iratxe García, leader of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (S&D), warned that Meloni’s far-right government would damage EU foreign policy.
“It would further undermine our founding values of the EU of equality, democracy and the rule of law, and it would weaken the unity and solidarity that we so badly need in the face of Putin’s aggression due to its nationalist agenda,” García said.
An EPP source, who spoke to EURACTIV on condition of anonymity, explained that Berlusconi’s pro-Russian statement throughout this period had caused “discontent” in the centre-right EU family, especially among European legislators in charge of external affairs.
“The issue will hardly be on the party’s agenda, but in the corridors and bilateral exchanges, some MEPs have expressed shock,” the EPP source said.
Ruining Meloni’s Narrative
Critics in Rome suggest that these statements are no coincidence and mainly target Meloni, who recently “laughed in his face”, as Berlusconi admitted when the latter asked for more strategic weight ministries for Forza Italia.
“The desperate here is Meloni, who is trying to smooth things over with Brussels and Washington, and the old boy is destroying everything,” an S&D source told EURACTIV.
According to the source, this reaction could be attributed to a “personality problem” more than politics itself.
“Berlusconi wants to show that he is still at the center of decision-making […] he just can’t stomach that he isn’t anymore,” the source noted, adding that other Forza Italia members such as Antonio Tajani cannot follow Berlusconi on this rhetoric.
In a tongue-in-cheek comment, the S&D source said ‘We should all show solidarity’ with Meloni as it will not be an easy task to lead the country with Matteo Salvini and Berlusconi from the Lega’, but she has chosen this path. “.
(Federica Pascale | EURACTIV.it, Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com)