German Leader Cancels Vacation to Italy and goes to Croatia?
By STEPHEN GRAHAM, Associated Press Writer
BERLIN - Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder scrapped a planned vacation in Italy following a series of diplomatic spats with Rome, opting Wednesday to rest at home in Germany instead. The Italian prime minister's laconic response: "I'm sorry for him."
Schroeder's decision to ditch a trip to the Marche region next week followed an Italian official's assertion that German tourists were "stereotyped blonds with a hyper-nationalist pride."
The chancellor's spokesman, Bela Anda, said the quarrel would make it impossible for Schroeder and his family to have "a restful and undisturbed vacation."
But Germany's conservative opposition brushed aside the row as "pure summer theater" and said Schroeder's decision was an attempt to distract voters from domestic problems.
Italy and Germany have been on diplomatic tenterhooks since Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told a European parliamentarian from Germany last week that he would make a good Nazi prison guard in a film. Berlusconi made the gaffe after the German lawmaker questioned the prime minister about laws that have eased his legal problems in Italy.
Schroeder initially held on to his vacation plans — accepting Berlusconi's expression of regret.
However, tensions escalated after Italian Industry Minister Undersecretary Stefano Stefani lampooned German vacationers as "stereotyped blonds" and Germany "a country intoxicated with arrogant certainties."
Some Italian ministers had distanced themselves from Stefani, to the satisfaction of many German officials. Still, two of Schroeder's ministers called for Stefani's removal from office — and the controversy smoldered.
"You have to ask if a man is fit for this job, with responsibility for tourism, if he says German tourists aren't needed any more," German Interior Minister Otto Schily said Wednesday. "He'll have to accept that they perhaps will go to Dalmatia and Istria (Croatia), Spain or France — there are a lot of good places for vacations."
Schily, who owns a house in Tuscany, said he had yet to decide whether he would take a vacation in Italy this year.
The chancellor — under intense domestic pressure to spur economic growth and brighten the dismal unemployment picture — seemed to have struck a chord with fellow Germans with his decision to take his vacation in his hometown of Hanover.
Under the headline "No Bella Italia!" the mass-circulation Bild daily urged the chancellor earlier Wednesday to stay home. Germany's n-tv television channel, which asked viewers to phone and e-mail it with their views on the chancellor's decision, said more than 80 percent supported it.
"Year upon year, thousands of Germans spend their vacation in Italy," said Olaf Scholz, general secretary of Schroeder's Social Democratic Party. "They don't need to be collectively insulted, and the chancellor has made that clear with his decision."
Berlusconi was asked to comment on Schroeder's decision during a visit to Positano, on the Amalfi coast, and responded: "I'm sorry for him," according to the ANSA news agency.
The diplomatic rifts have underscored the love-hate relationship between the two countries.
Germany's powerful economy and political stability compared with Italy's political chaos has underlined the rivalry. Berlusconi has made a point of trying to make Italy's weight felt internationally, sidling up to the United States and Russia while making clear Germany and France can no longer take Rome for granted.