Before we get to June 7 and Britain's general election, there are two other important, and very different, elections taking place in Europe next Sunday. One is the Italian general election in which Silvio Berlusconi, the media magnate, is the focus of attention – and not just in Italy. Other European countries, most notably France and Spain, are taking a keen interest in the possibility of the right–wing Signor Berlusconi becoming Italian prime minister for a second time; his business interests stretch far and wide and are not always thought to be as transparent as they should be; there are allegations of links with organised crime and of tax evasion. Britain's internationally influential newsmagazine, The Economist, alleged last week in its cover story that Berlusconi was “unfit to lead Italy” and a few days later Le Monde expressed its agreement. There have even been suggestions that if Berlusconi were to win Italy's status as a member of the European Union might be challenged. The second election due to take place next Sunday is in Spain's Basque country. This is a complex affair which cannot easily be simplified. But the central issue is whether the existing moderate government of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which has been in office for the past twenty years, is better able to deal with ETA separist terrorism than Jose Maria Aznar's national government Partido Popular. Opinion polls indicate that neither party may be able to win a majority, in which case one of them might seek an alliance with the Socialists in the Basque parliament. It takes brave men and women to participate in Basque country politics in face of terrorism. Spain is fortunate that it has many still ready to do so.

Ray Fleming


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