Let's talk about football or women, says Berlusconi

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The Independent Online

It was the day to show his diplomatic skills, but once again Silvio Berlusconi, the maverick Italian Prime Minister, proved that political correctness is hardly his strong suit. Addressing guests over a formal lunch, he declared the early part of the proceedings finished and proposed a discussion of something more diverting. "Football or women," he suggested.

With half a dozen female foreign ministers and leaders around the table, Mr Berlusconi's joke may not have done much to smooth a tense atmosphere. Nor did his attempt to link arms with his fierce political rival Romano Prodi, the European Commission president, seem to melt the ice.

By lunchtime yesterday leaders of almost all the 25 EU nations were trapped inside the drab building in Brussels, awaiting the arrival of Leszek Miller, the Polish Prime Minister. He was on his way from a clinic in Warsaw following helicopter accident.

Poland is one of two countries blocking agreement on a new system of voting, and Mr Miller may be the man who torpedoes the EU's draft constitution. At last he arrived, walking from his aeroplane despite his cracked vertebrae and body cast, before being ferried to the conference centre. If the pain gets too much he will have four medics to call upon, perhaps giving him an unfair advantage over the other EU leaders.