Schulz: 'Berlusconi is dividing Europe'
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is "dividing Europe in a dangerous manner", Martin Schulz told EurActiv Germany on Monday (28 April), referring to Berlusconi's attempts to score points in the European elections with anti-German slogans, while Europe's centre-right is distancing itself from his "repulsive" statements. EurActiv Germany reports.
Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi attempted to spread anti-German sentiment in Milan on Saturday (26 April), while campaigning for his party Forza Italia in the European elections. The right-wing politician starting a renewed verbal attack on the European Parliament president and top candidate for the European Socialists, Martin Schulz.
"I did not mean to insult Schulz. But then the floodgates opened", Berlusconi explained on Saturday (26 April). "Because for the Germans, the concentration camps never existed. Not the Polish one in Katyn, not the German ones."
Previously, in 2003, Berlusconi created an uproar in the European Parliament, when he described Schulz as the ideal candidate for a movie role as a concentration camp “kapo”, a prisoner acting as an overseer.
"Mr. Berlusconi is dividing Europe in a dangerous manner, which personally affects me", Schulz explained on Monday, speaking to EurActiv.de in Berlin.
"That is the opposite of what the European Union was founded upon, namely cooperation among nations," Schulz said.
The German government was slow to respond to Berlusconi's attack on Schulz. Secretary General of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Yasmin Fahimi, called it scandalous that neither Chancellor Angela Merkel, nor her colleague in the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) Horst Seehofer, had not reacted to the statement.
On Sunday Fahimi told Reuters: "The statements made by Silvio Berlusconi are repulsive, outrageous and completely unacceptable."
The faux pas not only harms Italy's image, but endangers the entire political culture and values of Europe, Fahimi insisted, saying that Berlusconi must apologize.
"Now, I expect Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer to clearly explain whether they will tolerate such a smear campaign against Martin Schulz or if they will actively distance themselves from Berlusconi's unspeakable statements", the secretary general criticised.
However, on Monday afternoon, Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters, "the claims that were reported are so absurd that the government won't comment on them."
Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the CSU, as well as Forza Italia, all belong to the umbrella organisation of European conservatives: the European People's Party (EPP). In the European Parliament, representatives from these parties are in one political group.
Head of the CDU's group in the German Bundestag Volker Kauder said he intended to discuss the issue with his colleagues in the EPP. "Berlusconi must be confronted on this," he said, speaking to ZDF-Morgenmagazin.
EPP top candidate, and Schulz election opponent Jean-Claude Juncker, said Berlusconi's comments "disgusted" him, in a statement on Monday. According to the Luxembourg politician, Berlusconi should take back his words and apologise to Holocaust survivors and Germans.
The vice president of the European Parliament and long-time official in the EPP, Othmar Karas, also distanced himself from Berlusconi's statements: "Berlusconi's faux pas is unacceptable. His words harm the common values of the European People's Party and the European Union. Such statements do not have a place in the EPP."
"More Italy, less Germany" is Forza Italia’s slogan on their European election posters. The party claims Germany's austerity plan has brought about the recession – now a new direction is necessary.
Just two weeks ago, a court in Milan sentenced Berlusconi with compulsory community service after he was found guilty of tax fraud 8 months prior. Because the 77 year-old was determined too old for a jail sentence, he faces one year of part-time work in an Italian care home. Berlusconi was found guilty of pulling the strings to a complex tax fraud system surrounding his television company Mediaset. But despite numerous scandals, he remains one of the most influential politicians in Italy, particularly among those belonging to the centre-right.
Silvio Berlusconi turned a successful business career into a platform for politics. In 1994, few months before elections, he founded Forza Italia and went onto win, but his government soon collapsed when an ally withdrew support.
In the subsequent election, he was defeated by Romano Prodi, a centre-left candidate. But that was not the end of Berlusconi. He returned power others two times, in the 2001 and again 2008, after losing another election to Prodi in 2006.
But his political ventures were always dogged by tax and legal problems. In 2011, Berlusconi was hit by a sex scandal known as 'Rubygate', after the name of an underage prostitute. With the Italian economy teetering and fears of a eurozone meltdown looming, he resigned in November and was succeeded by a government of technocrats headed by Mario Monti.