Europe stunned by Fawlty Towers gaffe

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Artykuł pochodzi z pisma "Guardian"

Nazi jibe leaves governments dreading Berlusconi's EU term

Ian Black in Brussels and Sophie Arie in Rome
Friday July 4, 2003
The Guardian

Silvio Berlusconi's infamous Nazi jibe reverberated across Europe yesterday as governments pondered gloomily how they will get through the next six months of EU business under his mercurial presidency.
The Italian prime minister's stewardship of the union faces a new test today with a meeting in Rome with his fellow-countryman and bitter rival, Romano Prodi, the European Commission president.
Mr Prodi refused to comment last night, though his spokesman agreed under furious questioning in Brussels that there had been a "very serious incident."
He looked ashen-faced in the European parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday when the billionaire media magnate and prime minister rounded on German MEP Martin Schulz and suggested he play a guard in a film about Nazi concentration camps. It was a Fawlty Towers moment, mentioning the war in the most inappropriate context imaginable - the symbolic site of European reconciliation and integration.
Pat Cox, the Irish president of the parliament, turned in shock to the Italian leader and said: "Silvio, what the fuck have you done?" according to the Rome daily La Repubblica. Mr Berlusconi beamed broadly, though everyone else was appalled.
Few were openly urging forgiveness and forgetfulness yesterday, though most EU governments seemed resigned to moving on.
Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, said an apology would go a long way. Anna Lindh, his Swedish colleague, was blunter, arguing that if the union already had a full-time president instead of rotating stints, as Tony Blair wants, it would have been spared Mr Berlusconi. "Unfortunately, he has six months in the chair ahead of him," she said.
The British government went for public discretion, hoping the row could be quickly defused. Privately, though, there was deep dismay, if little surprise. "The guy just doesn't have any of the disciplines of normal politicians," said a senior official. "Italians like him, they vote for him en masse. I think he's embarrassing, silly and grotesque."
The Netherlands and Luxembourg governments were openly critical.
But Mr Cox's spokesman said: "The EU is more important than a single incident or single individual. We have more important business."
Many had been dreading the start of the Italian presidency, fearing Mr Berlusconi's gift of the gaffe would complicate a crowded agenda which includes sensitive negotiations on the EU constitution, boosting sluggish economic growth and healing the scars of the Iraq war. But few could have imagined such a sensationally stormy and damaging start.
The hope now is that Italy's professional diplomats and civil servants will be able to keep things flowing smoothly – and that their prime minister will keep quiet.
The biggest challenge will be the inter-governmental conference on drawing up a new EU treaty. But it is hard to imagine Mr Berlusconi playing the role of his Danish colleague, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in brokering a final enlargement deal with 10 new member states last year.
"It has been a bad start but I think he has got the opportunity to recover and I think he needs to recover, given that it will be under the Italian presidency that we go into the intergovernmental conference," said Gisela Stuart, the German born Labour MP and delegate to the Brussels convention.
But the sheer insensitivity of the Strasbourg remarks will not easily go away. Robin Cook, former foreign secretary and president of the Party of European Socialists, said: "The whole point of the European ideal is to get away from crude national stereotyping. I am appalled that a president-in-office of the EU should cause such offence and revive conflicts which the rest of us long to put behind us."
Mr Berlusconi himself was playing down the significance of his "joke," arguing that the Italian left had collaborated with Mr Schulz to provoke him. "It was adequately prepared by the opposition," he told journalists.
While the incident caused outrage across Europe, Italy's conservative newspapers detected a leftwing conspiracy and argued that the prime minister had been insulted as much, if not more, than the German MEP.
Mr Berlusconi insisted he had shown restraint by not reacting to "provocation and serious offensive comments", from other MEPs, calling him "mafioso, thief, godfather."
It was a familiar line. Since being elected in 2001, he has systematically defended himself against criticism over his conflict of interests, his corruption trial and his politics with the response that he is victim of a communist plot.
Umberto Bossi, the Northern League leader who sparked controversy for suggesting coastguards fire on illegal immigrant boats, emerged as the prime minister's most stalwart supporter.
In his attempts to defuse the crisis with Germany Mr Berlusconi managed to cause offence to Italy's Jewish community, explaining that Holocaust jokes had been ”doing the rounds" for years because Italians know how to laugh about "that kind of tragedy".
Italians had worried that the presidency, rather than help the country shine on the international stage, could bring humiliation. "As Italians, we are ashamed," said Alfredo Pecoraro Scanio, leader of the Green party. "The Berlusconi bomb has started to upset European institutions. It is a serious blow for Italy's credibility."
Mr Berlusconi's deputy, Gianfranco Fini, leader of the post-fascist National Alliance, made clear that he felt this time the Italian billionaire had gone too far.
"No accusation, however factious, can justify the epithet of Nazi commander for a political opponent," he said.
to be appaled - być zbulwersowanym
ashen-faced – pale, śmiertelnie blady
to beam – to smile
Blow – a hit, cios
blunt – rude
to broker – to arrange a deal or agreement between two or more groups
dismay – konsternacja
To draw up - nakreślić
Dread – to fear, bać się
factious – false
Gloomily – ponuro, posępnie
Humiliation – poniżenie
inappropriate - nieodpowiedni
Jibe – an insulting remark, docinek
Mercurial – suddenly changing
Outrage - oburzenie
to play down – pomniejszyć znaczenie
To ponder – rozważać
reconciliation – pojednianie
Reverberate – odbijać się echem
to revive – wznawiać
restraint – ograniczenie
do the rounds - krążyć
To round on - zaatakować
sheer - najzwyklejszy
sluggish – slow
stalwart – loyal
Stewardship – przewodnictwo
stint - a period of time spent doing some activity
Stunned - oszołomiony


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