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Saturday, 8 December, 2001, 12:12 GMT
Italy heads for EU showdown
Silvio Berlusconi
Critics say Berlusconi is motivated by personal fears
European Union leaders have warned Italy it is heading for isolation amid increasing anger at its blocking of a proposed Europe-wide arrest warrant.

The Italian position is completely unacceptable

German Interior Minister Otto Schily
Criticism of Italy's stance, which scuppered the much heralded plans at top-level meetings in Brussels, has been unusually outspoken.

The warrant is the keystone of the union's proposed anti-terror measures but Italy has blocked agreement by insisting on limiting it to only six offences - excluding crimes such as fraud and corruption - rather than the proposed list of 32.

There are suspicions that Italy's objections are motivated by the personal concerns of its Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who has had run-ins with the judiciary over his business interests.

"The Italian position is completely unacceptable. It is completely impossible not to include corruption, fraud and counterfeiting," said German Interior Minister Otto Schily.

'Show of force'

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt is to go to Rome next week to tackle Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi directly on the matter ahead of the leaders' summit in Laeken, where a decision on the warrant is expected.

Berlusconi is opening a major crisis between himself and Europe

European diplomat
"I will do my utmost to make sure the European arrest warrant becomes a reality," he said, warning that the other 14 member states may push on with their plans regardless, under the EU's provision for "enhanced co-operation".

"Berlusconi is opening a major crisis between himself and Europe," one senior minister told the Reuters agency. "We're heading for a show of force".

UK Home Office minister Angela Eagle confirmed that the EU might proceed with the initiative without Italy.

"Fourteen countries made compromises in order to get agreement on the EU arrest warrant and then they [the Italians] brought up a lot of things that they hadn't given us any notice of," Ms Eagle told the BBC.

"We would have been able to deal with them if they had stated them earlier, rather than waiting to the last minute to bring up a series of objections."

The EU is determined to push through the warrant quickly to face off criticism of its slow bureaucracy and show it can act quickly in the face of an international threat.

Ulterior motives

Speculation persists that Italy is acting to protect Mr Berlusconi, a billionaire businessman who has been investigated for fraud and other business irregularities, though never convicted.

Well done to Berlusconi, who in order to save his own skin, is taking Italy out of Europe

Magistrate Antonio di Pietro
Italian Interior Minister Claudio Scajola put a brave face on the impasse, saying he believed a solution would be ahead of the summit.

"It is extremely simplistic and contrary to the truth to read into Italy's position a meaning linked to the personal problems of anybody," he said.

But magistrate Antonio di Pietro, who led the clean hands inquiry against Mr Berlusconi was not convinced.

"Well done to Berlusconi, who in order to save his own skin, is taking Italy out of Europe".

UK Home Office Minister Angela Eagle
"There's a potential for the 14 states in the Treaty of Amsterdam to go ahead without Italy if we have to"
See also:

03 Dec 01 | Europe
EU to push through terror laws
06 Dec 01 | Europe
Italy blocks EU warrant plans
16 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Agreement on EU-wide arrest warrants
16 Oct 01 | Europe
EU combats terror funding
19 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Blair welcomes EU anti-terror support
08 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Italy urged to reconsider warrant
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