Silvio Berlusconi’s scathingly critical remarks about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have precipitated quite an uproar within the European People’s Party (EPP), the parliamentary grouping to which his party, Forza Italia, belongs, causing some politicians to threaten to boycott an upcoming gathering if Berlusconi attends.
According to a report from Politico Europe, which cites two sources close to the grouping’s internal dispute, politicians from nine countries have lambasted Berlusconi’s recent remarks, with several allegedly threatening to boycott a center-right gathering planned to take place soon in Naples, Italy, if Berlusconi attends.
Berlusconi displeased many over the weekend when he, during an off-the-cuff interview with the Italian press, called Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s recent conversation with Zelensky “inappropriate,” and argued that the war would never have happened if Zelensky had stopped “attacking the two autonomous republics of Donbas.”
“If I were prime minister, I never would have met Zelensky because we are witnessing the devastation of his country and the slaughter of his soldiers and civilians,” the former Italian prime minister said. “He only needed to stop bombing the autonomous republics of Donbas, and none of this would have happened. I have a very, very negative opinion of the behavior of this gentleman.”
Berlusconi’s harsh criticism of Zelensky incensed many of his colleagues in the EPP, whose official position is one that staunchly supports Ukraine against Russia, setting off a heated, internal predicament in the EPP—a grouping whose members include Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Parliament President Roberta Metsola, and which wields massive institutional power and influence in the European Union.
At a gathering of national EPP delegations in Strasbourg that came on the heels of the former Italian prime minister’s statements, representatives from Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Sweden, Luxembourg, and Belgium spoke out against Berlusconi’s comments and called on Manfred Weber, the leader of the EPP, to denounce them publicly, according to individuals close to the ordeal.
Lithuania MEP Rasa Juknevičienė (EPP), who is a member of the center-right Homeland Union, was quoted as having said: “Putin uses not only the eastern front. He uses all the means to activate all the proxies he can on the western front. Many delegations will not go to Naples if Berlusconi is there.”
Polish MEP Andrzej Halicki (EPP), a member of Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform, insisted that it was “unacceptable” for Berlusconi to continue leading Forza Italia.
It remains unclear whether or not the planned gathering in Naples will take place if Berlusconi attends.
The Forza Italia leader’s comments have brought to light fault lines in Italy’s center-right coalition as well.
Commenting on the controversy, Italy’s Defence Minister Guido Crosetto (FdI), told the press he disagreed with Berlusconi’s comments, echoing previous statements put out by Meloni’s government.
Italy’s position on the Russo-Ukrainian war “cannot be questioned and is not questioned by any force, neither the majority nor a large part of the opposition,” Crosetto emphasized.
Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, a member of Forza Italia, defended Berlusconi, and called him a “man of peace.”
“He has certainly not changed his positions in support of Ukraine, NATO, and the West. We have always voted the same way and we will continue to vote that way. The government’s position is always the same,” Tajani said.