Silvio Berlusconi: Angela Merkel and me

The BBC Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman questions Mr Berlusconi on claims he used an offensive term to refer to German Chancellor Angela Merkel

"In 20 years of politics, I have never insulted anyone."

Silvio Berlusconi is being asked about claims he once referred to Angela Merkel using two derogatory terms.

"No, I have never had any problems with Angela Merkel.... this has been made up by someone who wanted to turn Angela against me," he tells BBC Newsnight in a rare TV interview.

The former Italian prime minister, now 77, once mingled with the German chancellor and other world leaders at global summits.

These days, the three-time leader is more likely to be found at a care home near Milan, where he is carrying out a year's community service after being convicted of tax fraud in 2013.

Turbulent relationships

After years of successfully brushing off sex scandals and allegations of corruption, he has also been sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for having sex with an under-age prostitute and abuse of power.

He is currently appealing in this case.

Berlusconi's battles with Mrs Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the height of the eurozone crisis are thought by some commentators to have exacerbated its problems.

Silvio Berlusconi shakes hands with Angela Merkel during an Italy and Germany summit in Trieste in 2008 Berlusconi insists he got on well with Angela Merkel on the whole

"I was not an easy person to deal with and I was quite tough. I had the courage to oppose some of the proposals made by Merkel and Sarkozy," he says.

He adds that his relationship deteriorated with Mr Sarkozy because of a differing approach to Libya.

'Cuckoo'

Berlusconi says the Frenchman feared the Italian's relationship with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi would stop Libya from supplying France with gas and oil.

"So he moved before the other countries to attack Libya and Gaddafi and I think it was a big mistake," says Berlusconi.

He insists though that he based his politics on "friendly relationships with all of my colleagues".

Berlusconi played his "cuckoo" prank in 2008

"I have had long-lasting friendships with George Bush, Vladimir Putin, with Aznar, with Tony Blair - many others… so it is almost impossible not to have a friendly relationship."

The time in 2008 that Berlusconi jumped out from behind a monument in Trieste and shouted "cuckoo" to Angela Merkel as she arrived for talks was just a joke, he insists.

He was merely replicating a trick Russian President Vladimir Putin had played on him in St Petersburg days earlier, he says.

"She enjoyed it.

"When Merkel - and I really was on very good terms with her - came to Trieste, thinking of what Putin had done to me, I basically hid behind a monument and I did the same thing.

"It was funny."

Students and protesters march at Piazza Venezia during a demonstration to protest against the cuts in the education budget and against the austerity measures in Europe on November 17, 2011 in Rome. Italy saw widespread protests over austerity cuts at the time of Berlusconi's resignation

However, their relationship took a turn for the worse in 2013 when, Berlusconi says, he wasn't able to deliver on an economic guarantee he had made to Mrs Merkel.

"Merkel and Sarkozy, during a press conference in October, probably Sarkozy had a journalist ask a question which said: 'Do you believe Berlusconi will deliver on his promises?'.

"Well, the two looked at each other and basically attacked my reputation and my image."

Sex party claims

Berlusconi acknowledges that allegations he has faced about corruption, unpaid taxes and "bunga bunga" sex parties have tarnished his reputation abroad.

But, despite his convictions, he protests: "Italians know very well that none of these facts are true."

He adds: "Since I entered politics, I have been involved in 57 trials but I have never previously had to deal with judges.

"Forty-six of those cases were dismissed and I am still dealing with others concerning my assets.

Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi during G8 summit in L'Aquila, 2009 Berlusconi criticised Mr Sarkozy's approach on Libya

"For 20 years I have spent every weekend and each Monday afternoon with lawyers to prepare the 2,700 hearings that were held against me and my team.

"The bunga bunga accusations were the most amazing things - ridiculous. They manipulated reality. Luckily I am a strong person and I was able to take it."

Berlusconi is currently banned from public office but retains strong views about the future of the EU and the future of Italy, which he says is "no longer a democracy".

It is a "complete disaster" for some EU countries to be using the euro, but not others, he says.

Euro threat

"We need radical changes otherwise the economic situation will force us and other European countries to abandon the euro and go back to their national currencies," he says.

He says the EU is far from ever becoming a United States of Europe.

"The EU has a very imbalanced economic policy and a very imbalanced tax policy and they don't have a foreign policy.

"When we had a meeting with the heads of state, I proposed to have just one president and I suggested Tony Blair because he was really charismatic.

"George Bush... rang me and asked who he should speak to in order to understand the European position in Iraq. And I told him to try to contact everybody."

Watch the interview in full on Newsnight on Tuesday 20 May 2014 at 22:30 on BBC Two, and then afterwards on the BBC iPlayer.

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