Italy-German Relations Strained over the 'Clowns' Berlusconi and Grillo

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By Gianluca Mezzofiore | February 28, 2013 2:10 AM EST

Berlusconi and Beppe (Reuters)

Italy is on the brink of a diplomatic crisis with Germany after president Giorgio Napolitano refused to meet the Social Democratic candidate for the post of Chancellor after he called Silvio Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo "the two clowns that won the Italian elections".

The SPD's Peer Steinbrueck, one of the main contenders for 2013 elections, said he was "appalled that two clowns have won" the Italian elections, and he made clear he was referring to centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi and comic-turned-politician Beppe Grillo.

He also called Berlusconi "clearly a clown with a testosterone boost".

Napolitano, who is on official visit to Germany, called off the dinner saying that Steinbrueck's remarks were "inconvenient and even worse". Conversely, he said, "Statements by Germany's minister of finances [Wolfgang] Schaeuble were an example of friendly respect and discretion".

The German candidate's spokesman said Napolitano canceled "because of Steinbrueck's remarks on Tuesday" and added that the SPD politician "understood Napolitano's domestic political reasons for cancelling".
Napolitano's spokesman was unavailable for comment. The two were supposed to meet over dinner at a Berlin hotel.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman has rejected the interpretation that Italians voted against Mario Monti's austerity measures in the last elections. Steffen Seibert suggested that the government does not believe in this "one-way explanation" of the elections' outcome.

Italian president Napolitano, who is preparing to leave office, had been praised by US President Barack Obama who called him "a visionary leader" who has helped promote "greater unification for Europe".

The surprise general elections in Italy caused a political paralysis for the impossibility to form a government in the upper chamber or Senate, for lack of majority.

According to the results, Beppe Grillo's Five Stars movement is the largest single party in the country, with 25.55 percent of votes cast (8,688,545 people).

Dubbed "sans-culottes satirist" ("the trouserless joker"), showman, extremista and charismatic former comedian Beppe Grillo managed to stir a crowd of more than 30,000 people in Milan ahead of this week's election into a rage against Italy's establishment and corrupt political system as part of his "Tsunami Tour".

His Movimento 5 Stelle 's campaign focused on five key areas: public water, transportation, development, internet availability and the environment. He appealed to those voters frustrated by Italy's political and corporate class.

Both Grillo and Berlusconi campaigned against Monti's austerity measures championed by Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel.

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