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Europe

All Smiles as Fischer Chats with Berlusconi

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on a visit in Rome had a surprisingly friendly round of talks with controversial Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi yesterday. The issue of European integration topped the agenda.

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Amicable twosome: German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, left with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi

The atmosphere was cordial as German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer met Italian Prime Minister and interim Foreign Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Italy yesterday.

A beaming Berlusconi told reporters at the end of three hours of talks with Joschka Fischer that Germany and Italy were "in the same boat" and getting on together extremely well.

He also said that Italy and Germany see eye to eye over Europe and will work together to ensure the EU's planned eastward expansion is a success.

Surprising warmth between Berlin and Rome

The swift return of friendly relations between Berlin and Rome might come as a surprise to some.

Fischer along with other European leaders had been quick in voicing concern over the shock resignation of Berlusconi’s pro-European Foreign Minister, Ruggiero earlier this month.

Ruggiero’s departure led to Berlusconi being branded as "eurosceptic" and raised fears around the continent that Italy in a burst of nationalist fervour, was shirking its commitment to Europe.

Ever since Berlusconi has been at pains to reassure European leaders that Italy is in favour of a integrated Europe, calling himself a "euro enthusiast" and a "euro realist".

Fischer usual humourous self

But there were no signs of discord at the meeting, as Fischer indicated that Italo-German relations would remain warm.

He even referred to Berlusconi’s new dual role in a lighter vein as he said, "I’m happy to be in Rome today and to have had an exchange of ideas with the Prime Minister and my new colleague, Foreign Minister".

EU Convention a sore point

The only sticking point between the two leaders seemed to be the appointment of a further Italian minister in the EU Convention to map the future of the European Union.

Former Italian Premier Giuliano Amato was named a Vice-chairman of the Convention. But Berlusconi has raised some hackles by saying that Amato only represents the Convention and not the Italian government. He insists on a separate representative on the Convention to defend Italy’s interests.

At the press conference yesterday, Fischer, for fear of spoiling the warm mood, replied tersely that Italy’s demand ran counter to the original agreement reached at the Laeken summit in December last year.

Fischer emphasised that each EU country should have only one member on the Convention and said that he wanted the work of the Convention completed on schedule to allow the eastward expansion to take place in 2004.

When pressed for a further response, he said that Germany has not yet decided whether to bow to the Italian demand.

Berlusconi fawns over EU expansion

But Berlusconi was all smiles and at his suave best as he elaborated on the EU expansion plan.

He said the 15 EU nations had rapidly to draw up the framework needed to absorb another 10 members, mainly from former Communist eastern Europe, who are knocking on the door.

He said he wants a Europe "that will have its own military force that will guarantee internal security, but that will also act as a peacemaker around the world, that will work with but also compete economically with the United States".

There was no trace of the belligerence that he displayed in parliament recently when he said that Italy was in favour of closer European integration, but would not let anyone tamper with its national sovereignty.

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