Italian president says EU being made scapegoat

ROME Sat Jun 21, 2008 7:45pm BST

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi speaks to President Giorgio Napolitano (L) during his swearing-in ceremony at the Quirinale palace in Rome, May 8, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi speaks to President Giorgio Napolitano (L) during his swearing-in ceremony at the Quirinale palace in Rome, May 8, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Chris Helgren

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's president on Saturday accused member governments of using the European Union as a scapegoat to hide their own faults.

The remarks in support of the EU by President Giorgio Napolitano, a former Communist, appeared to be a veiled criticism of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi just days after the centre-right leader attacked the bloc over everything from bureaucracy to the euro.

And with the EU struggling to salvage the Lisbon Treaty after Irish voters rejected it last week, Napolitano said EU governments were not persuading their citizens of the need for a stronger and more united Europe.

"Too many governments, have in fact, hidden the positions they have taken in (Brussels), using Europe -- and in particular the European Commission, 'the bureaucracy of Brussels', as a scapegoat to cover their responsibilities and inadequacies," Napolitano said in a speech to a European conference in France.

Napolitano was taking a markedly more pro-EU line than Berlusconi, who this week delivered a series of broadsides against the bloc even though Italy has been a strong proponent of European integration.

Berlusconi's centre-right coalition opposed Napolitano's candidacy for president two years ago.

Italian media have reported that Napolitano has had doubts on proposed laws drafted by the Berlusconi government that swept to power in April, though the president has publicly never expressed such reservations.

The post of president is largely ceremonial but he has the power to name the prime minister, dissolve parliament and send legislation back to parliament if he deems it unconstitutional.

Berlusconi said on Wednesday that Europe had made no progress in the two years since he was last in office in drafting unified policies in areas such as energy and had not done anything to halt the rise of the euro.

He also said Italy would use an upcoming EU summit to make the bloc less bureaucratic and less distant from citizens.

He followed that up with another broadside against the EU on Thursday, saying it had lost its influence on the world stage, had weaker leaders than before, and that its commissioners spoke too much and created problems for ministers.

(Writing by Deepa Babington; Editing by Giles Elgood)