16 July 2003

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Berlusconi’s comment has Erika undertone

It’s been one verbal blunder after the other for Italian Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi since Italy’s take over of the EU presidency. His latest: the proposal to give the Maltese prime minister responsibility for oil tanker safety in the EU.
Harmless as the proposal may sound, it has all the connotations of a joke with the intention of taking a dig at Malta over doubts cast on the seriousness of the vast Maltese ship register after the Erika disaster in 1999.
The Maltese ship register has been in the spotlight ever-since, with accusations that it serves as a flag of convenience. Malta boasts one of the biggest ship registers in the world and the Malta Maritime Authority has, since the Erika disaster, worked to make its regulations more stringent.
Berlusconi’s proposal was made during a dinner for Brussels-based journalists in Rome on Saturday. It was reported in the Financial Times and was also carried by the Reuters news agency.
Berlusconi was reportedly speaking to journalists about his long-term vision for the EU. He said that the prime ministers of the member states should be represented on the Commission and each with their own portfolio. It was at this point that Berlusconi suggested the Maltese prime minister be responsible for oil tanker safety.
The statement does not seem to have ruffled any feathers at Castille. After all Italy has been an ardent supporter of Malta’s membership over the years and sources say that such a statement, made during an informal dinner, could hardly be allowed to damage relations between the two countries.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
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