|Vol 7, No.15, 12.4.01, p3
EUROPEAN Parliament President Nicole Fontaine will send an envoy to Spain in a bid to resolve a row over calls for the criminal prosecution of Silvio Berlusconi - the billionaire MEP who is favourite to become Italy's next prime minister.
An assembly member will go to Madrid to try and push the Spanish authorities to re-submit their request for the media tycoon's immunity to be lifted so that he can face tax fraud charges.
During the visit the envoy is expected to hold high-level meetings with government officials and members of the judiciary, including Baltasar Garzon - the high court judge who stepped into the international limelight when he sought, unsuccessfully, to try former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Insiders say MEP Neil MacCormick is a likely candidate for the job; the Scottish nationalist is seen as an honest broker between Fontaine's centre-right group and the Socialists.
Spain has already asked for the European Parliament to allow Berlusconi to be prosecuted for tax fraud at Tele 5 - a Spanish television station which he part owns - but that request was rejected by Fontaine last summer.
Socialist MEPs say Fontaine was acting beyond her powers when she did this and had threatened to take legal action.
But party group leaders have now agreed to a compromise.
In addition to the fact-finding mission to Spain, they are also calling on the assembly's constitutional affairs committee to consider whether Fontaine was right in rejecting the waiver request because it came directly from the Spanish courts and not through the justice or foreign affairs ministries.
Socialists now admit that even if the constitutional affairs committee finds that Fontaine did break the rules, the consequences for her are unlikely to be dire.
The decision to send an MEP to Spain is also likely to save Berlusconi from further damaging publicity in the run up to the Italian elections on 13 May - when his centre-right House of Freedoms alliance is expected to defeat the challenge of Francesco Rutelli.
Even if Fontaine's envoy goes this month, the earliest MEPs could consider any immunity request would be at their full meeting on Monday 14 May.
By then Berlusconi will either be Italian prime minister, and will have to give up his seat as an MEP, or he will be just another member of the European Parliament.
European Parliament President Nicole Fontaine will send an envoy to Spain in a bid to resolve a row over calls for the criminal prosecution of Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire MEP who is favourite to become Italy's next prime minister.
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