Silvio Berlusconi, FI leader. Facebook

EPP berates Berlusconi: ‘Support for Ukraine is not optional’

European People's Party (EPP) President Manfred Weber on Friday cancelled an event scheduled to take place in Naples this year in protest to comments by ex-premier and Forza Italia (FI) leader Silvio Berlusconi criticizing Ukrainian President Zelensky.

Published: February 20, 2023, 8:21 am

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    “Following the remarks by Silvio Berlusconi on Ukraine we decided to cancel our study days in Naples,” Weber said via Twitter.

    The decision by the centre-right group in the European parliament sparked an angry reaction from FI’s politicians.

    ‘Support for Ukraine is not optional’

    Berlusconi recently said he would never have met with Zelensky as Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni did on the sidelines of an EU summit in Brussels, adding that he had a “very, very negative” view of Zelensky’s conduct, suggesting that Moscow had been provoked into intervening in an already ongoing conflict in the Russian-speaking Donbass.

    The EPP, which Forza Italia belongs to, publicly criticized Berlusconi on Friday. Weber singled out Berlusconi, but carefully noted that Forza Italia and its national coordinator, Foreign Minister and Deputy Premier Antonio Tajani, “have our full support”.

    “We continue the cooperation with the Italian government on EU topics,” he added.

    Meloni’s government, which governs with FI support, has been backing Ukraine following the eruption of further hostilities, as did the previous executive of ex-premier Mario Draghi.

    Tajani unhappy about EPP’s meddling

    Tajani did not appreciate being singled out for Weber’s “support”. Instead he complained about the EPP intervening directly in domestic political party issues. “Berlusconi is Forza Italia. Forza Italia is Berlusconi,” Tajani tweeted. “I don’t agree with the decision to postpone the Naples meeting. Berlusconi and FI have always voted in the same way as the EPP on Ukraine”.

    FI’s parliamentary whips, Licia Ronzulli and Alessandro Cattaneo, also signalled their anger in a statement, calling on Weber “not to intervene again”.

    The statement continued: “The question is not just the cancellation of the study days, which harms not just the party, but Italy too, but also the desire to enter into the internal life of a party… excluding its leaders. This is unacceptable”.

    Cancelling Russian artists

    Last week the Russian foreign ministry summoned the Italian Ambassador in Moscow Giorgio Starace to express its “bewilderment” to the ambassador about the “recent cancellation of cultural events of Russian artists in Italy”.

    It also said that it had informed Starace of Moscow’s assessments of “the current provision of weapons and military equipment to the Kiev regime, including offensive arms, the training of Ukrainian military personnel and, in general, the Western line of provoking an escalation of the conflict”.

    At least 58 percent of Italians do not want to send weapons to Ukraine, according to a recent poll by Euromedia Research. The respondents fear, in particular, that “Germany’s decision to send Leopard tanks – and on the whole continuous sending of weapons to Kiev” may lead to an escalation of the conflict with the possibility of direct involvement of NATO.

    At least 68.5 percent are against the entry of NATO into the conflict in Ukraine and only 16.2 percent are in favor.

    Left implodes in regional elections

    Center-right candidates have meanwhile held their ground in elections in Italy’s two most populous and key regions. According to preliminary election results, Regional President Attilio Fontana of the Lega managed to win re-election in Lombardy with the financial metropolis of Milan. In Lazio, with the capital Rome, the right-wing candidate Francesco Rocca won.

    The lawyer Fontana, who has been President of Lombardy for five years, received 56 percent of the votes in Lombardy. His Social Democrat challenger, MEP Pierfrancesco Majorino, won a meager 32 percent of the vote.

    More importantly, a political turning point is taking place in Lazio after ten years under the leadership of a centre-left alliance. In the region with the capital Rome, Francesco Rocca, candidate of the right-wing party Fratelli d’Italia, asserted himself and defeated the social democratic competitor Alessio D’Amato with a solid 50 percent of the votes. The Fratelli d’Italia came to 33 percent – another four percent more than in the parliamentary elections in September.

    The Social Democrats of the Partito Democratico (PD – Democratic Party) suffered another defeat after embarrassing themselves in September’s general elections.

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