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Berlusconi protege with his sights on Italy’s top job


(FILES) In this file photo taken on July 1, 2017 Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (L) shakes hands with European Parliament President Antonio Tajani at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France. Silvio Berlusconi on March 2 tipped European Parliament President Antonio Tajani as his choice for Italian premier Thursday after leading his rightwing coalition in a public display of unity just days ahead of a general election. / AFP PHOTO / Sebastien Bozon

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, the man picked by Silvio Berlusconi as his choice to be Italy’s next prime minister, is an affable networker and long-time ally of the billionaire media tycoon.

“He is someone who knows all of Europe,” Berlusconi said as he announced his one-time protege as his favoured nominee if the rightwing coalition he heads wins a majority in Sunday’s general election.

Tajani, who helped Berlusconi enter politics in the early 1990s and then served as his spokesman, is seen as someone whose loyalty Berlusconi can count on.

Sharp-suited and with a fondness for luxury watches, the 64-year-old former journalist helped Berlusconi found the Forza Italia (Go Italy) party which first brought the flamboyant billionaire to power in 1994.

Since then Tajani has quietly grafted a stellar career in European politics spanning over two decades.

‘Many people owe him’
Undeniably likeable, Tajani has a reputation for knowing everyone, not only in the European parliament where he has been since 1994 but also in the European Commission, the executive of the 28-nation EU.

He served as EU transport commissioner in 2008-10 and then as industry commissioner in 2010-14.

“He has done favours for an enormous number of people and many elected members owe him,” an official from Tajani’s European People’s Party has told AFP.

He was elected European parliament president in 2017.

A good communicator in several foreign languages, his allies credit him with taking a moderated approach to the role, staying out of heated debates and instead focusing on building consensus in the parliament.

He has “re-established a good working environment in the parliament,” French MEP Elizabeth Morin-Chartier told Politico.

But his critics have questioned his effectiveness and dedication to the role, suggesting he has been more interested in Italian politics than advancing European causes.

“Tajani has been underperforming and is very uninspired,” German MEP Jens Geier was quoted by Politico as saying.

‘Consensus man’
Through out his career, the politician who once described himself as a “consensus man” has never forgotten his close friendship with Berlusconi.

He has spread the media tycoon’s influence in the centre-right European People’s Party, the biggest bloc in the European Union’s only elected body.

Tajani’s dedication to his former boss, which he has never hidden, has led some to question whether he would serve as a puppet to Berlusconi’s insatiable desire to run the country.

The billionaire former prime minister is currently barred until next year from holding elected office himself under Italian law owing to a tax fraud conviction.

He has positioned himself as a kingmaker through his leadership of a four-party grouping that is expected to garner the most votes in Sunday’s election.

Leaders of the EPP asked Berlusconi at a meeting last month to let Tajani stay in Brussels saying that they “needed him”, a source told AFP.

Tajani hesitated for a long time before indicating Thursday his readiness to take up the job, giving in to Berlusconi’s insistence, according to Italian media.

“With Tajani, we will have a new legitimacy in Europe, we will once again be able to make heard and defend the interests of the Italians,” Berlusconi said.

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