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Europe

European Press Review: Europe’s Worst Fears are Realized

European papers were up in arms over comments made by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in his debut speech before the European Parliament when he likened a German parliamentarian to a concentration camp guard.

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Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi appears deaf to all criticism over his EU presidency.

Austria's Der Standard said Berlusconi showed his true colors. To suggest that a German parliamentarian representing the Social Democrats in the European Parliament should play a concentration camp guard has nothing to do with irony. It was a targeted insult and illuminates Berlusconi's inability to deal with criticism, the paper maintained.

The Dutch paper Algemeen Dagbladet described Berlusconi's performance as vulgar and not worthy of a head of government. That the Italian business tycoon and media mogul does not react well to political opposition is well known, the paper commented. In Italy, he may reign over a parliamentary majority that slavishly follows him, but in Europe that is not the case. Berlusconi has once again shown that he shamelessly uses his position for personal gain. Europe must not allow this to continue, the paper warned.

The fact that Berlusconi’s verbal slip-up happened on the first day of Italy taking over the EU rotating presidency raises concern that worse is yet to come, the Luxemburger Wort wrote. What use was Berlusconi's vision for the next six months if he behaves like an elephant in a china shop, the paper noted. These embarrassing tirades damages not only his own reputation but that of the EU.

The German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung was more cautious in it's criticism, saying that not only is the situation dishonorable, but it is also regrettable because the overall excitement has pushed Berlusconi's actual agenda for the EU to the background. The paper questioned how far critics are willing to go and what sort of collateral damage this will have on Europe.

Some of the Italian newspapers were even more critical of their prime minister’s blunder. The Milan paper Corriere della Sera wrote that Europe's worst fears have been realized. At Silvio's Berlusconi's EU debut he was not able to hold his nerves or his tongue in response to the foreseeable, if somewhat over the top, attacks from European parliamentarians, the paper commented. His semester at the head of the rotating presidency couldn't have gotten off to a worse start, it concluded.

La Repubblica lamented Berlusconi's bad record. It took exactly three hours and 25 minutes to destroy his role as EU president and reduced the office to soap opera proportions. It's rare for a political leader to squander such a valuable opportunity so quickly – truly a record, the paper gibed.

Brussels daily Het Laatste Nieuws didn’t hold back with its criticism, saying Benito Mussolini would be happy with Berlusconi’s statements. It only took 50 years, the paper opined, but finally Italy has a strong leader who controls the media, politics and the law. And Berlsuconi's insults have turned the Italian presidency into a graveyard on its second day.

The Swiss daily Tages Anzeiger wondered who is going to pull Berlsuconi in line?. When right-wing extremist Jorg Haider entered into a coalition with the ruling Austrian conservatives three years ago, Europe's leaders, in particular French President Jacque Chirac, made a huge fuss. The situation in Italy is much more serious as the man who controls the media and politics puts democracy itself into question, the Swiss paper said. Europe's heads of state and government should give a clear no to this sort of behavior.

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