Foreign Ministry summons Italian Ambassador over Berlusconi comments
Italy's Ambassador to Finland Ugo Gabriele de Mohr was summoned to the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs on Wednesday to discuss remarks made by Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi during the inaugural ceremonies for the European Food Safety Authority in the city of Parma.
Finland and Italy were both vying for the Food Authority, and Italy came out ahead, despite a general consensus among other EU members that the Finns should get the EU plum. Italy torpedoed the move at the Laeken European Council in December 2001, where the country agreed to fold on its earlier objections to a European arrest-warrant that had left it in an EU minority of one, and Italy eventually got its way in December 2003, during the Italians' six-month term as the Presidency of the EU.
Berlusconi said on Tuesday that he had flirted and used his "playboy skills" to appeal to Finnish President Tarja Halonen on the issue.
Berlusconi also lashed out at Finnish food, saying that in Parma the European Commission President José Manuel Barroso can taste "our culatello [ham] instead of Finnish smoked reindeer".
"When these kinds of colourful expressions are used, it is good to react to them", Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre) said on Wednesday.
The Foreign Ministry said that the Ambassador was summoned to hear "the astonishment of the Finnish government" over Berlusconi's comments.
When Vanhanen was asked on Wednesday if he liked Italian food, the Prime Minister said that he likes spaghetti, "as long as it is not spiced too much. I like simple food".
Vanhanen also would not say if the Foreign Ministry officials had their meeting with the Ambassador over lunch.
Ambassador de Mohr said on Wednesday that he would refrain from commenting on the day's conversations before he reports back to Rome. There was no apology at that point.
"I didn't have lunch or coffee, but it was only because I had a busy schedule", he said.
While most Finnish officials contented themselves with pointing out that President Halonen was not actually in a position to decide on the siting of the European Food Safety Authority, since it was a government issue, perhaps the most striking response to Berlusconi's remarks came in a comment to the late-edition tabloid Ilta-Sanomat by Social Democrat MEP Lasse Lehtinen.
The author and former MP and gameshow host quipped that it had been claimed in the press that Silvio Berlusconi had recently had a face-lift, but to judge from his latest remarks it must have been a lobotomy instead.
Aside from its undeniably wonderful prosciutto ham, Parma has been in the headlines of late as the home-town of dairy goods giant Parmalat, which became embroiled - only weeks after Parma got the nod - in a massive corporate accounting fraud scandal and had to be rescued from bankruptcy by hurried emergency legislation from the Berlusconi government (see article from January 2004).
Previously in HS International Edition:
Berlusconi says he used "playboy skills" in contest with Finland over Food Authority (22.6.2005)
A tale of two cities (and one EU authority) (13.1.2004)
EU Chemicals Authority both a joy and a disappointment (15.12.2003)
Life after Laeken (27.12.2001)