- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2001

MILAN, Italy — Russia as a member of NATO? "Why not?" Silvio Berlusconi asked in the final stages of his campaign to become Italys new center-right prime minister.
While Mr. Berlusconi made clear that any "decoupling of the Atlantic alliance, which some elements of the European left seem to favor, would be geopolitical folly," he added, "That is not to say we shouldnt look at future security arrangements for the next 50 years."
Mr. Berlusconi said in an interview he believes that North America, Europe and Russia are "moving toward a common perception of future threats" that dictate that "we should try to work out a common approach."
Mr. Berlusconi is Italys richest man, with a fortune estimated at $14 billion. His media properties include three television networks with a 40 percent share of the Italian audience.
He has barnstormed the country in his executive jet and helicopter with pledges to sweep out the "old guard" and the bureaucratic "cobwebs" that have given Italy 58 governments in the past 50 years.
Mr. Berlusconi said Russian President Vladimir Putin "made important overtures to (NATO Secretary-General George) Robertson last February for a joint approach to missile defense to cope with threats from what Mr. Putin referred to for the first time as 'rogue states."
"Even though some of the players are off-key, we are all singing from the same security sheet," Mr. Berlusconi said.
Asked if that meant he could see Russia as a member of NATO, Mr. Berlusconi replied, "Why not? If we all share the same view of global security in the 21st century and Russia is a pluralistic democracy, then Russia and those (candidates) wishing to join NATO and who qualify for entry should all be part of the same security system. Units from NATO countries with Russian and Ukrainian units have been working well together in Balkan peacekeeping operations.
"Islamist fundamentalism is at the top of the list" of future common threats, Mr. Berlusconi said. "And let us not forget that there are still over 1 billion people living under a communist totalitarian system, albeit with a semimarket economy."
Mr. Berlusconis House of Freedoms coalition brings together eight political components, including his own Forza Italia party; the Northern Alliance that has its roots in Italys fascist past; and Umberto Bossis Northern League, which began as a northern-based party dedicated to splitting from the poor south.
Both the Belgian and German governments are suggesting that such a Berlusconi coalition government would suffer the same fate as Austria last year when a right-wing party joined the governing coalition.
The European Union then decided to quarantine Austria and Belgium and even asked its citizens to boycott Austrian ski resorts.
Mr. Berlusconi tartly responded that "those who give the red-carpet treatment to such state visitors as (Zimbabwean President) Robert Mugabe, as Belgium did recently, would be showing their true left-wing colors." And the would-be boycotters should remember that "the European Parliament now has a center-right majority."
Airing his views on the future of the European Union, the Italian media tycoon said, "the strength of Europe is in its diversity, not in homogeneity that is an illusory quest, and a confederal structure is the only one that can possibly work."
He categorically rejected the notion, advanced by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, of a federal European Union with a strong central government in Brussels.
"A Europe governed by a federal government, like the U.S. federal governments links with 50 states, is a utopian vision that is a reflection of Eurocratic theology, not down-to-earth, practical, realistic politics," he said.
For Italy, Mr. Berlusconi said he likes the Swiss cantonal model, or "total devolution from the bureaucratic center. … Our system is obsolete, totally inadequate, full of cobwebs and corruption, and simply doesnt work. On top of that, we have an anti-capitalist leftist judiciary that was slowly infiltrated by the Communist Party during the Cold War" and since then "they have continued, with different political labels, their attempt to seize Italys cultural power."
After crisscrossing Italy for the past month, Mr. Berlusconi is convinced the Italian people want "a proven CEO, not a political retread."
His last tenure as prime minister lasted eight months in 1993-94.
His program also calls for slashing taxes and reducing the states take from 43 percent of gross domestic product to 33 percent; creating 1.5 million jobs; and boosting growth by 4 percent a year.

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