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Europe

Out With The Old, in With The New as Angie Meets Silvio

Gerhard Schröder's time in office is something Silvio Berlusconi would like to forget. When Angela Merkel visited Rome on Monday, the signs hinted at a new start in relations between Germany and Italy.

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Relaxed in each others company, Merkel and Berlusconi look ahead to a friendlier future

German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Italian Premier Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Monday evening during a short visit to Rome and took the opportunity to stress that efforts should be made to improve relations between their two countries which suffered during the term of office of her predecessor.

The atmosphere between the two leaders was already a marked improvement on the strained and barely concealed animosity towards the Italian government that punctuated the last days of the Schröder administration. Merkel and Berlusconi were relaxed in each others company and it was a clear indication that Rome was a lot happier at the outcome of the German election this time around.

The Italian prime minister himself was a lot more open in the meeting than he usually is with leaders, aides said. Over dinner, Berlusconi told Merkel that he had been following the events surrounding the establishment of the new coalition government in Germany very closely and had a positive feeling about the future.

Perso n al a n imosity fuelled past political spats

Schröder und Berlusconi

Schröder and Berlusconi very rarely saw eye-to-eye

The underlying message was that Berlusconi was glad to see the back of Schröder who had been on the opposite side of the fence during the Iraq war and whose government officials had on occasion sparred and publicly argued with their Italian counterparts during the second half of his chancellorship.

On the whole, however, the working relationship between Berlin and Rome had been mostly cordial but the personal dislike between the two leaders had often over spilled into the political domain, especially over Iraq.

The subject of Iraq is, of course, one that both Merkel and Berlusconi will have to breach in time to make way for a new period of calm between the two nations. The German chancellor avoided the subject directly but made it clear that she would be working towards a more fruitful relationship with the Palazzo Chigi by strengthening economic and industrial bonds.

Merkel stresses commo n grou n d

Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel, Vermittlerin in Brüssel

Exuding self-confidence, Angela Merkel added Rome to her list of conquests

"I've come here to introduce myself. Relations between our two countries are traditionally very good," Merkel told reporters after briefly meeting with President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi before dinner. "We know each other from many conversations that we have many common points of views, that we represent a similar social model.

"We know that Europe faces big challenges and that we in the European Union -- and Germany and Italy have always been at the heart of that -- must be economically strong. We must be strong in the areas of research, development and technology, so we in Europe do not have to rely on competitors in Asia or elsewhere in the world."

She added that the Germans and Italians also held similar views on the fight against terrorism and the search for a common European policy against unlawful immigration -- subjects that would be addressed in more detail during future meetings.

Berlusco n i looks to cooperatio n o n foreig n policy

Silvio Berlusconi

On opposite sides over Iraq, Berlusconi hopes Germany and Italy can now come together

Berlusconi hinted at the split over Iraq but was uncharacteristically restrained in his reference to it.

"We'll vigorously resume together trans-Atlantic policy, putting aside the differences of the past, especially on the Iraq issue," Berlusconi said. "With Chancellor Merkel's government, we will have the possibility of cooperation on foreign policy."

Merkel arrived in Italy on a wave of admiration based on her understated summit-saving performance at the EU's budget meeting at the weekend and the self-confidence gained from that was evident to see during the short visit.

Italia n charm the ici n g o n the cake

Berlusconi didn't pass up the opportunity to charm Merkel further, once again praising her for her role as mediator at the summit. It is understood that he told the chancellor of his admiration for her vision during the summit and her female instinct for coming to pragmatic solutions faster than male counterparts.

After dinner, Berlusconi made his private quarters in his office available for the chancellor to freshen up before her flight back to Berlin and bid farewell by extending his hospitality in Italy to Merkel in the hope that she would regularly enjoy her holidays there as much as her predecessor did.

It seemed that, although some things had changed and more needed to do so, the Italian prime minister was keen to promote continuity after all.

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