Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero were holding talks Thursday in Rome, with hard-fought negotiations over the 2007-2013 EU budget among the likely topics up for discussion. Pressure is rising for EU leaders to agree on the budget ahead of a Brussels summit on Dec. 15-16, where they will try to hammer out a deal. A June summit failed to reach a compromise and collapsed amid bitter recriminations and a clash between Britain and France.
Also on the agenda of the one-day summit in Rome were bilateral relations and commercial ties between Italy and Spain, as well as the U.N. security council reform and relations with Mediterranean neighbors, the Italian Foreign Ministry said.
Immigration, a common issue for two southern European countries that see massive influx of illegal immigrants every year, was also expected to come up. Attending the talks were the two countries' foreign ministers, Italy's Gianfranco Fini and Spain's Miguel Angel Moratinos, as well as ministers of defense, industry, labor and culture.
The conservative Berlusconi and Zapatero, a socialist, stand on opposing sides of the Iraq war. Zapatero opposed the U.S.-led conflict and withdrew Spanish troops. Berlusconi supported the war despite strong domestic opposition and sent some 3,000 troops after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
The Italian government is slowly withdrawing its contingent, but stresses that the timing of the pullout should be determined by the security condition in Iraq and be carried out in agreement with the Iraqi government and international allies. Berlusconi and Zapatero saw each other days ago at an EU-Mediterranean summit in Barcelona, which ended Monday with the endorsement of an anti-terrorism code of conduct, denouncing terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.
But the two-day summit was fractious, with leaders of the EU nations, Israel and its Arab neighbors attending the meeting deeply divided over the Middle East peace process and the wording of the anti-terrorism code. Fini described it Wednesday as a "partial failure," the ANSA news agency reported, citing lack of real progress on terrorism. He praised the summit's final document on immigration, ANSA said, reports the AP. I.L.