Is Berlusconi taking damage-control lessons from Sarkozy?
The AP’s Nicole Winfield writes that Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s flurry of diplomatic activity during the run-up to next week’s G8 summit may be partially aimed at distracting from his ever-multiplying personal scandals (the latest accusation comes from a high-end prostitute who says she has Berlusconi on tape): Berlusconi showed up at the last minute ...
The AP’s Nicole Winfield writes that Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s flurry of diplomatic activity during the run-up to next week’s G8 summit may be partially aimed at distracting from his ever-multiplying personal scandals (the latest accusation comes from a high-end prostitute who says she has Berlusconi on tape):
Berlusconi showed up at the last minute Saturday at a meeting in Corfu, Greece, of foreign ministers of the NATO-Russia Council — the only head of government there other than the host, Greek prime minister Costas Karamanlis.
The foray was a well-timed distraction as Berlusconi battles allegations he partied with prostitutes at his homes. It also won him praise from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and gave him a prominent forum to show off his statesmanship before the July 8-10 G-8 summit in the quake-stricken central Italian city of L’Aquila.
Lavrov said it was “very important” that Berlusconi had taken personal responsibility for helping NATO and Russia resume military ties — formalized at a 2002 summit Berlusconi chaired — which were frozen after Russia’s war with Georgia.
The visit, just two weeks after Berlusconi enjoyed a two-hour White House meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, also earned Berlusconi a half-hour phone call with the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, during which the Russian leader expressed a desire to resume full collaboration with NATO, Berlusconi said.
You have to wonder if Berlusconi’s been getting advice from Nicolas Sarkozy. It wasn’t long ago that the French prime minister’s very public courtship of Carla Bruni was considered a distraction, his private text messages to his wife were on the front pages of the tabloids, he was ensnared in a tawdry family scandal over a mayor’s race, and his popularity hit rock bottom, seemingly dragging his party along with him.
But instead of focusing on improving his domestic standing, Sarkozy looked abroad. He embarked on a whirlwind round of shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East, Caucasus, and Africa, making the most of his term as EU president. He’s also emerged as Europe’s leading campaigner for international financial regulation, an ironic twist for the leader who was once attacked by French leftists for his “anglo-saxon” economic philosophy.
And while the Bruni jokes haven’t gone away, he’s certainly more respeted on the world stage than he was a year ago, his approval ratings (while still low) have improved significantly, and his party earned a commanding victory in the recent European parliament elections.
So all this international travel may ultimately pay off for Berlusconi. Though it should be noted that his approval ratings have barely fallen at all during the current round of scandals. Having his own media empire certainly helps. No such luck for Sarko.
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating
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