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Sep 2003 Journal

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Berlusconi's outburst

The Italian Prime Minister is hardly a good advertisement for the democratic process (nor, for that matter, is President Chirac). He proves that the deformation of the Italian body politic, due to such entrenched forces as the Catholic Church, feudalism, bureaucracy and organised crime, is long-lasting and still awaits drastic surgery.

Berlusconi has, moreover, the execrable taste of saying he is comfortable with jokes about the Holocaust. The only possible response to that is outraged silence.

On the other hand, he has shown a refreshing tendency to cut through politically expedient double-talk and articulate uncomfortable truths. He has asserted that Western values were not an optional equivalent to Islamic ones - but actually superior to them. Even his spat with the German Social Democrat deputy in the European Parliament contained a tiny grain of justification. The Germans of today like to project themselves as the goodie-goodies in international affairs - which, given the dreadful burden of their past, is understandable - but pacifist attitudes are of precious little use in the present dangerous world situation, where countries from Iran to North Korea want to go nuclear.

Lastly, the Germans and the French also lay claim to the role of joint spokesmen for Europe. Their notion that Europe should be equidistant from America and the Third World - exemplified by EU Commissioner Patten's fondness for Arafat and President Chirac's for Mugabe - shows the need for someone to take a more Atlanticist stance inside the EU. Currently, Italy and Spain go some way towards redressing the balance - but they, plus the former Soviet-Bloc countries, and (hopefully) the UK, will in the long run build a true bridge across the Atlantic.

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