Italian Election 94: EU countries fret over the tycoon's neo-Fascist allies

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The European Union's political elite fretted yesterday at the prospect of the image-maker and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi and his allies joining their ranks around the table of the Council of Ministers.

There are deep-seated concerns in capitals across Europe at the prospect of his allies, the neo-Fascists from the National Alliance and regionalists from Italy's Northern League, being appointed as ministers along with the business- like appointees expected from Mr Berlusconi's Forza Italia.

Even if appointed to obscure posts in a future government, the neo-Fascist and regionalist Italian ministers will have plenty of opportunities to sit around the Brussels Council table.

The French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, who was quick to criticise Greek voters for electing a Socialist government last November, was more muted about the prospects of sitting around the Council table with prospective neo-Fascist Italian ministers.

'We have no reason to make a value judgement on what the Italians have done,' Mr Juppe said when asked about Mr Berlusconi's alliance with the neo-Fascists. 'I simply wish that the new Italian government which will emerge from these elections can stick to the European line, which has always been that of Italy, and obviously maintain active co-operative links with France,' he told French radio.

The French government clearly views with considerable concern the prospect of an Italian government featuring neo-Fascists as well as out-and-out federalists, at a time when the governments of France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium are trying to hold the line against far-right politicians by a deliberate policy of exclusion.

By legitimising electoral support for the extreme right, the electoral breakthrough of the neo-Fascist National Alliance could provide a shot in the arm for far-right parties in the forthcoming European elections as well as in key national elections this year.

The German and French governments have attempted to isolate the extreme right by refusing all contact with them, while at the same time accommodating extremist voters by taking a hard line on immigration and law and order.

Greece's Foreign Minister, Theodoros Pangolos, who is president of the European Council, was equally low key in his assessment of the election results and its impact on Italy's traditionally pro-European policy. The victory to the right and far right was due to Italy finding itself in the cultural, social and economic doldrums, he said.

He dismissed as 'unworkable' the Berlusconi dream of an 'Italian economic miracle' achieved through a Thatcherite programme of privatisation of state industries, health and education, less taxation, creation of a million jobs over two years and a sharply streamlined bureaucracy.

Another European leader to raise his head above the parapet and comment on the Italian results was Alois Mock, Austria's Foreign Minister, who put the results down to what he called the regrettable weakness of the old centre parties. Austria's application to the EU must be ratified by all 12 member-state parliaments, including Italy's.

Fascism on everyone's lips, page 20