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Berlusconi plans to block EU over migrant comments

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday threatened to block European Union decision making unless EU commissioners and their spokespeople were barred from speaking publicly, Italian media reported.
/ Source: Reuters

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday threatened to block European Union decision making unless EU commissioners and their spokespeople were barred from speaking publicly, Italian media reported.

Berlusconi appeared to object to Italian newspaper reports suggesting that the European Commission was implicitly criticizing Italy by requesting information from it and Malta after a boat of African migrants was returned to Libya.

Dennis Abbott, Commission spokesman for regional policy, confirmed that a request had made.

"The request for information is a normal process in situations like this," he told a regular news briefing. "The Commission wants to help but, if it's to help, it needs accurate information."

But Berlusconi said the Italian media reports were the result of the words of Commission spokespeople being "manipulated."

He told reporters in Gdansk, Poland, where European leaders were marking the 70th anniversary of the start of World War Two, that he would bring up the issue at the next EU summit and demand that errant commissioners be fired.

"My position will be unequivocal and precise: we will not give our vote anymore, effectively blocking the functioning of the Council (meetings of EU governments) unless it is agreed that no commissioner or spokesperson of a commissioner can publicly weigh in on any topic," Berlusconi said, according to Italian agency reports from Poland.

Only the European Commission president and his spokesperson should be able to speak publicly, Berlusconi said.

"I'll ask that the commissioners and the spokespeople of commissioners who continue the trend of all these years be fired in a definitive manner," he said.

"This is something that cannot be accepted any more because it gives the opposition in every country weapons that don't exist."

The government is particularly sensitive to attacks on its refugee policy. In May, Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa called the local spokeswoman of the U.N. refugee agency an "inhuman" or "criminal" leftist over her criticisms.

The spokeswoman, Laura Boldrini, on Monday accused Italy of sending back the boat of refugees from Italian waters without giving them a chance to request asylum, calling the case "very serious." Italy says the boat was in international waters.