Tantrums and tirades: How Europe's heads behave in private

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The Independent Online

When Italy's Prime Minister fails to get his way he does what comes naturally and shouts, while the President of France prefers to rely on a sexist joke. Austria's Chancellor, meanwhile, is something of a whinger.

Minutes of an acrimonious dispute among Europe's heads of government at this weekend's EU summit have been leaked, and they do not reveal our political masters in a very favourable light.

At the end of a two-day summit in Laeken, Brussels, heads of government from the 15 EU member states launched into a vicious battle over the location of Europe's new Food Safety Authority and other EU agencies. Belgium, which holds the European Union's rotating presidency, decided to sweeten the pill to the losers by proposing the distribution of 13 new EU agencies – some of which are currently small units of the European Commission.

However, the carve-up was not to the liking of Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, who – with France and Spain – had a rival bid to host the authority. According to a leaked note of the discussion, Mr Berlusconi told his fellow leaders: "Parma is synonymous with good cuisine. The Finns don't even know what prosciutto is. I cannot accept this."

Unhappy with the four smaller agencies he was offered, the French President, Jacques Chirac, poured scorn on their quality, suggesting that they would have little real work. "How would it be if Sweden got an agency for training models, since you have such pretty women?" he suggested to the Swedish Prime Minister.

The leaked minutes then show an agitated Mr Berlusconi complaining that he had already accepted a plan for an EU-wide arrest warrant, which he opposes. He was, he said, in no mood for further concessions, adding: "My final word is [shouts] No!" At that point the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder responded: "I love Parma, but you'll never get it if you argue like that."

Mr Schröder's injection of common sense did not prevent a complaint from his Austrian counterpart, Wolfgang Schüssel, that Austria's one EU agency employs only 19 people. On hearing this, the chairman and Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, ended the summit with the words: "That's it."

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