. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

As Italy Hosts EU, Politicians Vie for Attention

TURIN, Italy -- Italy's bitter election campaign could muscle in on the showpiece of the country's European Union presidency when EU leaders meet in Turin on Friday to begin their treaty review.


The special summit, in a converted factory where Foreign Minister Susanna Agnelli's family used to produce Fiat cars, will launch the 15-nation bloc on a months-long process of bargaining over how it should function in the 21st century.


Center-right parties in Italy say they believe caretaker Prime Minister Lamberto Dini will also use the glare of publicity from the largely ceremonial event to boost his own chances in the April 21 general election.


"We are sufficiently public-spirited to recognize that the government has a duty to perform in Turin," said Francesco Storace, spokesman for the far-right National Alliance in media magnate Silvio Berlusconi's Freedom Alliance bloc.


"We hope that Dini will not exploit the summit for electoral advantage ... Unfortunately, it's not much of a hope given the man's moral fiber," Storace said.


Dini has led an unelected technocrat cabinet since January 1995 through the political instability that has shaken Italy and overshadowed its EU presidency.


His decision to create his own centrist party, Italian Renewal, to fight the April election as part of the center-left Olive Tree coalition has incensed the Berlusconi bloc, which accuses him of abusing his position.


The Olive Tree's biggest party, the ex-communist Democratic Party of the Left, or PDS, said it would also be in Turin to host a meeting of European socialist leaders Thursday.


Such meetings are traditional on the eve of EU summits but Thursday's, which the PDS said seven European prime ministers would attend, has a distinctly electoral tinge, with the theme "For a Modern Italy. For a Caring Europe."


Friday's summit is expected to give foreign ministers their mandate to prepare the bloc for expansion into Eastern Europe, give it a higher profile in foreign affairs, and make it meaningful to its citizens.


Known formally as an inter-governmental conference, or IGC, the review is expected to last about a year.


Its launch in Turin continues a tradition that has made Italy the venue for many of Europe's post-war milestones.


The seeds for the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which created the original European Economic Community of six countries, were sown at a meeting of foreign ministers in Messina, Sicily, in 1955. The foundations for a European common agricultural policy were laid at a meeting in Stresa, northern Italy, in 1958 and the June 1985 summit in Milan took the decision to convene an IGC on the move to a European single market.


The IGC which led to the Maastricht Treaty was launched in Rome in December 1990, when Italy last held the presidency.


Conservatives in Italy have criticized the latest review for failing to include the issue of a single European currency, whose terms they want to see re-negotiated.


"What I fear is that this IGC will prove to be an exercise in futility," said Antonio Martino, foreign minister in Berlusconi's short-lived government in 1994.