Published: April 16, 2008
Italian prime minister-elect Silvio Berlusconi said on Wednesday he would help the European Union regain some of the influence in international affairs that he said it had lost since he was last in power.
Speaking on one of his own television channels after winning Sunday and Monday's election, 71-year-old Berlusconi said the EU needed a "top leadership squad" to make it count in the world.
"There is a need to reconstruct a Europe that has a leading role in the Western world that can tackle with determination the problems facing the world," said the conservative media mogul, who is expected to take office next month.
In his second term as premier from 2001-2006, Berlusconi was accused of isolating Italy within Europe by concentrating on relations with the United States, Russia and Israel.
Romano Prodi, who beat him in the 2006 election, tried to refocus on Europe in his 20 months as premier. But the former European Commission president was forced out of office in January when his centre-left coalition collapsed.
Berlusconi famously made the sign of the cuckold behind a Spanish minister's head at a summit photo call, and shocked the European Parliament in July 2003 by likening a German lawmaker to a concentration camp guard.
He said on Tuesday he would now be "the oldest -- sorry, I mean the wisest" at EU summits.
TALKING TO LEADERS
He told Italian TV that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had already invited him to London, and that he had had "a long conversation" with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and spoken with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
Seen as a staunch ally of Washington in its "war on terror", Berlusconi said President George W. Bush had invited him to a dinner in the United States, though he did not specify a date.
Outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to visit Berlusconi, Italy's third richest man and owner of AC Milan soccer club, at his villa in Sardinia on Thursday.
In the election campaign, Berlusconi had said he wanted to "intervene" with the European Central Bank and would discuss it with leaders such as France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Germany's Angela Merkel.
Berlusconi often blames the euro for the underperformance of the Italian economy, echoing the opinion of many Italians who say their spending power has waned since they gave up the lira.
Italian exporters complain that the strength of the euro on foreign exchange markets makes their products expensive abroad.
Berlusconi told Italian TV he would set up a commission to assess the budget situation his government would inherit from the centre-left to make sure there were "no surprises".
Berlusconi's record on running Italy's public finances has been questioned by economists and ratings agencies. A decline in Italy's public debt was reversed during his last government, and it is now the third highest in the world in absolute terms.