Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi avoided a court hearing in Italy today (13 September) regarding a sex and bribery scandal by scheduling meetings with the presidents of the three main EU institutions, who are all from his own centre-right political family.
The Italian opposition and media claim that Berlusconi organised visits abroad to avoid a meeting in Naples with prosecutors who wanted to question him regarding allegations that he paid bribes to three people in exchange for their silence over escorts invited to parties he hosted at his official residences.
European Commission spokesperson Alejandro Ulzurrun admitted that the idea of holding a meeting between Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Berlusconi, which took place today in Strasbourg, came from the Italian government.
He insisted that the leaders had to discuss the “important” issue of Italy’s economic situation, and stressed that whenever Barroso received requests from EU leaders for meetings he always did “his utmost to accommodate them”.
But he did not answer EurActiv’s enquiry as to whether Barroso could have received Berlusconi on a different day to that of his scheduled court appearance.
This morning, Berlusconi also met Council President Herman Van Rompuy in Brussels. At the press conference, Berlusconi spoke at length about measures being undertaken by his government to tackle the economic crisis, stating at the end that he had agreed with his host not to take any questions.
MEPs blasted the Italian prime minister for exploiting the EU institutions for personal gain.
German MEP Rebecca Harms, co-chair of the Greens/European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament, warned that his visit could put the EU institutions at risk of not being “taken seriously in Italy”.
“The fact that Berlusconi tries to exploit the European institutions for personal ends is worrying,” said Martin Schulz, leader of the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament.
Schulz, a German lawmaker, had an infamous exchange with the Italian prime minister in 2003, when just one day before taking over the rotating presidency of the EU, Berlusconi said told him he looked like the head of a Nazi concentration camp. The tables have now turned, however, as Schulz is expected to be nominated by his group to become the next European Parliament president.
Moreover, current Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, who like Brussels colleagues Barroso and Van Rompuy is from Berlusconi’s centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), indicated that he was not enthusiastic about receiving the Italian prime minister either.
A spokesperson indicated that the meeting between Buzek and Berlusconi would be only “a two-minute courtesy visit,” DPA reported.
The leader of the EPP group in the European Parliament, Joseph Daul, voiced support for the embattled Italian leader, saying the priority was to resolve the debt crisis.
“There is time to see judges in Italy,” Daul said.