Berlusconi says opposition ‘ruining’ Italy
STRASBOURG — Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi accused the left-wing opposition of ruining Italy as he met with EU officials in Brussels, a trip critics say was arranged to skirt legal hearings in Rome.
Berlusconi told reporters he was travelling to Brussels and Strasbourg “to reassure European institutions” about his government’s efforts to reduce a huge public debt that has unnerved financial markets.
“The opposition has criticised the budgetary measures with the only goal of slamming the government, without taking into account that it was hitting Italy,” he said after talks with EU president Herman Van Rompuy in Brussels.
The opposition has the “clear intention of ruining the image of the prime minister, but it has ruined Italy,” he said, vowing a balanced budget by 2013. The austerity plan will be presented to the parliament on Wednesday, he added.
Van Rompuy welcomed the steps taken by Italy, saying it was an “ambitious” package important “not only for Italy but also for the whole eurozone.”
Berlusconi and Van Rompuy refused to take questions from reporters.
The Italian premier then headed to Strasbourg to meet European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and EU Parliament speaker Jerzy Buzek.
“The Italian government’s commitment to achieve a balanced budget by 2013 is an important signal of both determination and ambition,” Barroso said in a statement, adding that Berlusconi had presented him the measures in detail.
Italy’s opposition and media say Berlusconi scheduled the meetings abroad to avoid a meeting in Rome with prosecutors who wanted to talk to him as a presumed victim of a blackmail attempt by Italian businessman Giampaolo Tarantini.
Tarantini, arrested on September 1, is suspected of having demanded hundreds of millions of euros from Berlusconi in exchange for silence about raunchy parties at the billionaire politician’s homes.
Berlusconi denies being a blackmail victim, saying he was merely trying to provide financial help to a friend and the man’s family.
His visit to Brussels and Strasbourg angered left-wing parties at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
“The fact that Berlusconi tries to exploit European institutions for personal ends is problematic,” said Martin Schulz, the German leader of the Socialist bloc who has often sparred with the conservative Italian premier.
Greens group deputy leader Rebecca Harms also took aim at Berlusconi.
“I think it is absolutely deplorable that he hides behind European institutions and tries to avoid this meeting” with prosecutors in Italy, she said.
The leader of the conservative group in the EU 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.