- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2002

ROME Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi tried to allay fears that his government is veering away from the European Union mainstream yesterday by affirming his commitment to further integration.
"We are firmly convinced that our country's future lies in a stronger Europe, which may express itself with a single voice, and in which political union may follow monetary union," the center-right leader told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
His attempt to calm nerves in European capitals followed the surprise resignation over the weekend of his respected foreign minister, Renato Ruggiero, as Euroskeptics appeared to be gaining the upper hand in the Cabinet.
Mr. Berlusconi will temporarily fill the post himself. President Carlo Ciampi is said to have agreed to this dual role on the condition that Mr. Berlusconi would send out a "strong signal" of his commitment to continue Italy's pro-European policy.
Mr. Ruggiero, a committed Europhile and Italy's most prestigious and popular Cabinet member, was Mr. Ciampi's choice as minister when he asked Mr. Berlusconi to form a government six months ago.
A diplomatic chief and one-time head of the World Trade Organization, Mr. Ruggiero was seen as a guarantor for a coalition whose many nationalist elements have caused concern abroad.
Mr. Ruggiero was forced to resign over the weekend after he complained in an interview that Euroskeptic Cabinet members were undermining him.
His chief target was Giulio Tremonti, the robotic-voiced finance minister. On the eve of the euro's debut Jan. 1, Mr. Tremonti called the new currency the stuff of "primates waving banners, faith healers, shamans, miracle makers and bankers."

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