| Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi yawns during a speech in Rome. (AFP)
Berlin, July 3 (Reuters): Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said today he had accepted Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s “regret” for comparing a German lawmaker to a Nazi concentration camp guard and the incident was closed.
“He expressed regret for the choice of this expression and comparison. I explained to him that as far as I am concerned this ends the affair,” Schroeder told a brief news conference after a telephone conversation with Berlusconi.
Schroeder had earlier demanded a full apology from Berlusconi for remarks in the European Parliament yesterday he called “inappropriate and completely unacceptable”.
Berlusconi’s remark tarnished Italy’s presidency of the European Union on just its second day.
Berlusconi had earlier said he had not meant to cause offence but refused to apologise and accused Italy’s Left-wing opposition of setting up the row.
Berlusconi later said he had told Schroeder he regretted any misunderstanding over his comment but said he had been seriously offended in the European Parliament by criticism by German deputy Martin Schulz, a member of Schroeder’s Social Democrats.
Schroeder said any further steps that might be taken over the affair were the responsibility of the European Parliament and said he hoped Italy’s EU presidency would get back on track.
“I expressed my hope that everybody must concentrate on making sure that Europe moves forward with its business,” he said, noting that the bloc hoped to finish drawing up a new constitution during the Italian presidency.
Berlusconi made the jibe yesterday after Schulz accused the Italian billionaire of a conflict of interest between his political office and his extensive media empire.
Some of Italy’s European partners — including Luxembourg and the Netherlands which, like Italy, are founding members of the EU and part of the Centre-Right group of European parliamentarians — refused to turn a blind eye.
“Given the major sensitivities involved it would have been better for Berlusconi to withdraw the remark immediately,” the Dutch news agency ANP quoted Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende as saying.
“It is a sensitive issue and could hurt people.”
The Luxembourg government said Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker was “shocked” by what it described as Berlusconi’s unacceptable comments.
It said the jibe showed his lack of understanding of European lawmakers’ sensitivities and said the Centre-Right European People’s Party, to which Berlusconi’s Forza Italia belongs, should match Schroeder’s demand for an apology.
Schulz said Berlusconi might never have become Prime Minister again if the previous European Parliament president had not refused to lift his immunity from prosecution.
Schroeder’s office called in the Italian ambassador yesterday to explain the comments.