Italy's Berlusconi charm offensive

By CHRIS WHITE   |   Jan. 28, 2002 at 4:03 PM

BRUSSELS, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- Italian Prime Minister Sylvio Berlusconi attended his first European Union foreign ministers meeting Monday wearing two ministerial hats.

It was the first time in history a prime minister of an EU member state was also its foreign minister.

But the dog fight everyone expected failed to materialize when the dog did not bark. Berlusconi, notorious in EU circles for his hostility to the EU and the new single currency, the euro, confined himself to a warm greeting as he arrived at the meeting in Brussels.

"I am glad to be here," he told waiting journalists.

After that, there was not a word.

At the final news conference, Spain's Foreign Affairs Minister Josep Piqué -- representing the EU's rotating presidency, which is Spain at present -- announced an agreement to make Italian neo-fascist Gianfranco Fini Italy's national representative on a forthcoming convention to decide the future structure of the European Union before a key inter-governmental conference in 2004.

Belgium, a federal state, also will have a national representative at the convention.

Privately, officials admitted that there was a conscious effort "on all sides" to dampen controversy over Italy's stance in the EU.

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