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Analysis: Beer, chips and belching

By CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley

Italian beach
About 10 million Germans take holidays in Italy each year.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- It seems you can't talk about European politics lately without mentioning one man -- the Italian President Silvio Berlusconi.

First there was the extraordinary business in the European Parliament.

On his first day in the six-month chair of the European Union presidency, Berlusconi insulted a member of the European Parliament by saying he would have made a good "Kapo" -- or Nazi commandant -- in a film being made in Italy.

This prompted great outrage from the German government.

Then Berlusconi phoned Gerhard Schroeder, the German chancellor, allegedly apologizing, according to the Germans. But when Berlusconi arrived home he said he had not apologized at all. So what is going on here?

We have now had another element in the story, in that Pat Cox, president of the European Parliament, has had a phone conversation with Berlusconi. He says that Berlusconi expressed regret, and Cox says he accepts that as an apology. As far as he is concerned, the affair is over.

However, things have gotten worse, because a chap called Stefano Stefani, who is a junior minister in the Italian government responsible for tourism, has attacked Germans, saying that they are programmed to believe they are first among all nations. He called them blondes who invade the Italian beaches.

He said they were "hypernationalistic blondes," indoctrinated to believe they are first in the class. He said they eat too many chips, drink too much beer, and indulge in belching competitions.

So now Gerhard Schroeder says he's canceling his holiday in Italy.

Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister, has in his turn apologized to the Germans saying of course they are still welcome on Italian beaches, and that Stefani was completely out of order.

The industry minister Antonio Marzano has jumped on his junior minister as well.

And well they might, because there are 10 million Germans who holiday in Italy, and if they start staying at home, there are going to be a lot of spaces on those Italian beaches.

So they have got to try and smooth this over. But it appears the latest apology from Italy's foreign minister did not convince Schroeder to go ahead with his holiday in Italy.


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