|Author (Person)||Cronin, David|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.7, No.22, 31.5.01, p1|
Conflict of interest fear over Italian PM inquiry
A EUROPEAN Commission probe into allegations that Silvio Berlusconi's media empire has benefited from illegal state aid is being overseen by Mario Monti, the man Italy's new leader wanted to appoint as his foreign minister.
Competition officials working under Monti are discussing whether to intensify an investigation into a law introduced during the eight months when Berlusconi was last prime minister in 1994.
The so-called Tremonti law - named after the then finance minister Giulio Tremonti - gave major tax breaks to companies which re-invested profits, fuelling speculation it was introduced to benefit Berlusconi's business interests, currently worth €16 billion.
Monti's role in the investigation has raised some eyebrows because of his personal friendship with Berlusconi. The Competition Commissioner, who turned down an offer of the foreign minister post before the election on 13 May, was originally nominated for the EU executive by Berlusconi.
Asked if Monti had any conflict of interest issues to address, his spokeswoman Amelia Torres said that this was a "personal matter".
Italy's outgoing centre-left government replied in April to queries by the Commission, asking it for information on points raised in a recent complaint about the Tremonti law by Liberal MEP Antonio Di Pietro. Rome has emphatically rebutted claims the law could have breached EU regulations on state aid.
Torres said that if the Commission is not satisfied with the Italian response it will formalise its investigation into the controversial legislation, which would have to be concluded within a mandatory period of 18 months. She stressed, though, that the inquiries are still at the preliminary stage.
Many MEPs have urged the Commission to monitor Berlusconi's media activities with vigilance. Heidi Hautala, leader of the Parliament's Green group, explained: "The fact Monti said no to Berlusconi's invitation [to be foreign minister] raises interesting questions but doesn't necessarily mean there is a clash of interests. I'm sure he is capable of a proper investigation."
But Italian Green deputy Reinhold Messner said he had concerns, pointing out that Berlusconi now manages more than 80% of television output in Italy. And despite reports it was about to sell part of Berlusconi's main firm Mediaset, his family still runs it, while the new government controls state-run broadcaster RAI. "This kind of thing would not be acceptable in a village; the mayor should not be in charge of the local newspaper," added Messner. "So in a state like Italy there is no way there should be so much media in one person's hands."
A European Commission probe into allegations that Silvio Berlusconi's media empire has benefited from illegal state aid is being overseen by Mario Monti, the man Italy's new leader wanted to appoint as his foreign minister.
|Subject Categories||Internal Markets|
|Countries / Regions||Italy|