PositionSilvio Berlusconi

Mr Berlusconi is already a flamboyant and controversial figure: his dismissal of his Europhile Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero and assumption of the foreign affairs portfolio only adds to his dramatic image. There is a precedent for a Head of Government taking part in Council of Ministers' sessions: Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker is also the nation's Finance and Social Affairs Minister, and turns up assiduously for EcoFin and Social Affairs Council meetings. But Italy is one of the EU's big four Member States, and Mr Berlusconi has still to convince the rest of the Union of his European credentials. He may well find himself on the receiving end of jibes from other Ministers for trivialising foreign affairs, by implying that the Ministerial post is a part-time job. He has already been severely criticised by Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel who gave Mr Berlusconi nought out of ten last year when asked to rate him (in turn, Mr Berlusconi has denounced Mr Michel as "a clown"). As for his marginalisation from the rest of the EU, he is expected to act like the Austrians during the time they were snubbed when the far right Freedom Party was brought into Government in 2000: despite having no colleagues to chat with, Austrian Ministers were the first in and the last to leave the Council chambers. Mr Berlusconi's attendance is even more discomforting for some Member States given that his main mission in Brussels is to defend his choice of the leader of the neo-fascist National Alliance Gianfranco Fini as Italy's nominee for the EU Convention, alongside the Italian Vice-President of the Convention Giuliano Amato. Even before Mr Fini was nominated, the Netherlands and Sweden complained about Italy having two representatives, but others, like Germany, have since added their grumbles.Zimbabwe.The Ministers will look at four options drawn up by the Spanish Presidency to tackle the political violence in Zimbabwe in the run-up to the Presidential elections on March 9 and 10. The options range in severity:* continuing consultations under Article 96 of the Contonou Agreement;* threatening sanctions;* imposing sanctions, but not applying them at least until the elections are over;* applying sanctions, which could include visa bans and a freeze on bank accounts and other assets of President Robert Mugabe and his colleagues.At the moment, the consensus within the EU is for a moderate response, probably involving the threat of sanctions. The threat of EU...

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