February 26. 2024. 6:25

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Forza Italia up in arms after EPP chief hits at Berlusconi


European People’s Party (EPP) leader Manfred Weber has distanced himself from Silvio Berlusconi after the latter’s statements against Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but centre-right Forza Italia strongly defended the former Italian prime minister, even questioning Weber’s leadership.

Berlusconi’s attack against Zelenskyy caused turmoil in the EU centre-right family. Following criticism from several EU lawmakers, Weber decided to follow up and officially distance himself from Berlusconi, saying, “Support for Ukraine is not optional”.

Weber went further as he decided to cancel an EPP gathering (Study Days) planned in Naples in June after some EPP members threatened not to attend if Berlusconi showed up.

In an effort to personalise the problem only to Berlusconi and not the party, the German politician wrote on Twitter that Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister “Antonio Tajani and Forza Italia have our support and we continue our cooperation with the Italian government on EU issues”.

But Tajani, also the national coordinator of Forza Italia, reacted strongly and defended Berlusconi.

“Berlusconi is Forza Italia. Forza Italia is Berlusconi”, Tajani wrote on social media.

“I do not share the decision to postpone the Naples meeting. Also, because Berlusconi and Forza Italia have always voted like the EPP on Ukraine, as the acts of the EPP show”, he added.

Tajani was in Rome for the inauguration of the new multimedia space dedicated to David Sassoli, ‘Esperienza Europa’, and the president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola (EPP). Both stressed the commitment of the EPP and the EU institutions to support Ukraine.

“Europe wants to be the bearer of peace, of the rule of law. We defend freedom and international law, and for that, we defend Ukraine, it is a candidate country, and we want peace to come there, too”, Tajani said.

The minister specified that aid to Ukraine is needed to reach a negotiation: “We all have to commit ourselves so that an agreement can be reached”.

Moreover, the group leaders of Forza Italia in the House and Senate, Licia Ronzulli and Alessandro Cattaneo referred to a “clumsy attempt to divide us”.

“We hope, first and foremost as Italians, for the clarification of the misunderstanding and a repentance of Manfred Weber, whom we ask not to intervene anymore”, they said.

“He is wronging not only a party but Italy with his desire to enter into the internal life of a party, imposing or excluding its leaders. This is unacceptable”, they added.

Forza Italia Senator and former MEP Licia Ronzulli even questioned Weber’s leadership.

“Weber unfit to lead the EPP group”, she said in a tweet also in English.

Before the Italian elections, the EPP chief backed a coalition government between Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and far-right Matteo Salvini’s Lega.

He particularly called on Italians to vote for Forza Italia to “guarantee” the pro-EU orientation of such a coalition.

Weber recently also attempted to bring Meloni’s party closer to a collaboration with the EPP but faced strong opposition within the centre-right family.

“There is clear majority against such a collaboration,” a high-ranking EPP official recently told EURACTIV.

Concerns over EPP chief’s leadership style, second salary

Officials of the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) have voiced concern about Manfred Weber’s leadership style and his attempts to collaborate with Italy’s far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni without prior consultations.

The idea seems also to have angered the centre-right parties in Berlin, who said such a discussion is off the table.

(Federica Pascale | EURACTIV.it – Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com)