Berlusconi: Berlin summit ‘a mistake’
19 February 2004
ATHENS/BERLIN – Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi slammed Thursday a summit held in Berlin on Wednesday between the leaders of Germany, France and Britain by describing it as “a counterproductive mistake”.
Speaking to Italian reporters during a visit to Athens, Berlusconi said the decision to hold the three-way summit would “make it harder for other European Union member states to accept its proposals”.
Italy’s outspoken premier reiterated his previously-held view that the summit was “a mess-up”, adding Thursday that it was a “clumsy attempt” to substitute European integration with “an exclusive core of countries that proceed at different speeds and in different directions”.
Italy, fearing that a three-party directorium could leave it out of the European decision-making process, has emerged as one of the strongest critics of the summit.
Earlier on Thursday his foreign minister, Franco Frattini, had sought to play down the outcome of the meeting but said concerns remained that Germany, France and Britain may be bidding to dominate the soon-to-be 25-member European Union bloc.
In remarks to the Italian media, Frattini described the outcome of the Berlin summit as merely offering “one of several acceptable contributions” to a European Council meeting scheduled to take place in late March.
Speaking to reporters while en-route to Warsaw, however, he said his government remained “concerned”.
“Concerns will remain for as long as the impression will be given that there is a wish to guide, in an exclusive rather than inclusive manner, Europe’s integration process,” Frattini said.
Frattini said the summit’s participants had failed to explain properly to other countries that they were merely wishing to “offer a contribution” to the decision-making process, rather than wanting to “write up the rules and ask the others to apply them”.
Italy’s foreign minister was expected to press his government’s case during a meeting with his German counterpart, Joschka Fischer, scheduled to take place in Rome on Friday.
During Wednesday’s summit in Berlin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for tough reforms to spur growth and for the creation of a new economics czar for Europe.
Europe’s “big three” also brushed off criticisms expressed by, among others, Italy, Spain and Poland, with Schroeder saying they were not meeting in Berlin “to dominate anybody, let alone Europe”.
In Brussels, the European Commission sought to put on a brave face on events by saying joint calls by Germany, France and Britain for stronger action to spur growth and jobs were no different from wider EU efforts to energise the bloc’s economies.
“Their priorities are no different from our priorities,” Commission spokesman Gerassimos Thomas told reporters following the one-day trilateral summit in Berlin.
Rejecting allegations that Germany, France and Britain were seeking to dominate the bloc, Thomas said cooperation among nations was a good thing. “We have no problem with that,” he stressed.
In remarks made Thursday to the BBC, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw also denied that Britain was seeking to “muscle in” on the close relationship between France and Germany.
“We are not trying to muscle in on anything,” he told the public broadcaster.
“What was really striking yesterday (Wednesday) was the way in which the atmosphere had so changed compared with 18 months ago, and there is a real desire by President Chirac, by Chancellor Schroeder and by British Prime Minister Tony Blair that we work together on all those issues where we really can achieve more together than we can apart,” Straw said.
At a press conference during the summit, Chirac said it would be “inappropriate to compare the relationships”, referring to German Schroeder by his first name while using Blair’s surname.
Asked whether links with Britain could ever be as close as those with Germany, Chirac said everybody understood the Franco-German relationship was “very intense, very specific, not something that could be transported or exported”.
Subject: German news