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Berlusconi plays down euro rift

Post office queue
Long queues plague introduction of euro in Italy  

ROME, Italy -- Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has attempted to stamp his authority on his Italian cabinet after a rift over support for the euro, reports have said.

Berlusconi told La Repubblica newspaper on Friday that he was ultimately responsible for government policy.

His comments came after Renato Ruggiero, Italy's pro-European foreign minister, attacked fellow ministers for belittling the ambitious euro project.

In a newspaper interview he declared that the birth of the single currency had highlighted internal cabinet divisions over Italy's EU policies.

"The differences of opinion aren't marked, they are very marked," Ruggiero had said in a newspaper interview.

Berlusconi said on Friday: "The country's foreign policy is steered by (me) not by this or that minister and frankly I don't see how doubts can be raised about Italy's ranking or the efforts we have made."

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He added: "I have the leadership of our foreign policy. Ruggiero is a technical minister and I am the one who has called him to the government.

"There is no chance that his comments will have political consequences." He put down the squabbling as mere "theatrics."

While Ruggiero, a europhile diplomat and former head of the World Trade Organization, has pushed for a continuation of strong, pro-European policies, others like economy minister Giulio Tremonti have adopted a more eurosceptic stance.

Berlusconi is also trying to encourage his country to be more enthusiastic about the euro, which was introduced in 12 countries on January 1.

It lags behind other countries in the eurozone with only 10 percent of cash transactions being carried out in the euro, the most recent figures reveal.

Long queues formed outside banks, stations and post offices during the introduction of the coins and notes, and citizens complained about a shortage of the currency.

The figure compares unfavourably with other nations. The average figure in the eurozone is 20 percent with some individual countries being as high as 50 percent.

But one EU spokesman said it was not surprising that Italians were using the new currency less, as fewer cash dispensers were converted ahead of the changeover and many businesses chose not to receive euros in advance.

Berlusconi's office tried to calm nerves by issuing a statement which hailed the creation of the euro and stressed the prime minister's pro-European credentials.

But it added EU member states had to debate where Europe should go now.

At Rome's central station many missed their trains as the queue to buy tickets was up to one-and-a-half hours long.

Automated ticket machines were not functioning and travel agents were initially unable to issue tickets because the software the state rail company had issued them failed to work.

The Italian Banking Association said cash machine transactions were up 50 percent on Wednesday from the same day last year, but that was still far below the rest of the euro zone where activity was up by 200-300 percent.


• Italy battles to accept euro
January 03, 2002
• Europeans start spending euros
January 1, 2002
• Europe's leaders hail new currency
January 1, 2002
• Black money: Spain's 'euro effect'
December 31, 2001

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