Berlusconi digs in over EU convention

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The Independent Online

Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian premier, will be on collision course with the European Union again on Monday when he insists that Gianfranco Fini, leader of the post-fascist National Alliance party, should sit on a convention on the future of Europe.

Mr Berlusconi's aggressive stance has ruffled feathers in Brussels not just because of the politics of Mr Fini, who once praised Mussolini, but because it could mean Italy holding an extra representative on the high-powered committee.

Mr Berlusconi, who serves as Foreign Minister and as Prime Minister, plans to attend a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels at which the issue will be discussed.

Last month EU leaders agreed to set up the convention, led by the ex-French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, and appointed two vice-presidents, the former Belgian premier Jean-Luc Dehaene and the ex-Italian premier Guiliano Amato. Each government is entitled to nominate one representative to the 110-strong convention made up mainly of national and European parliamentarians.

Mr Berlusconi argues that Mr Amato cannot be considered a government representative because he backs an opposition party. Belgium, which chaired the meeting that put together the deal, said there was a verbal agreement that Mr Amato would serve as the Italian representative.

Mr Berlusconi's stance has put other countries on the defensive and yesterday Mr Berlusconi said Mr Amato would have to stand down in favour of Mr Fini, the deputy prime minister, if Italy had to lose one of its representatives.