Story by Alessio Dellanna
13 Jun 2023
Silvio Berlusconi: The Man..
Remembering Silvio Berlusconi without mentioning his gaffes is almost impossible. Irony, whether good or bad, was the man's trademark.
As tributes pour in after his death, Euronews selected some of his most infamous statements.
The food row with the Finns
It's 2001 and the EU is deciding whether it should place its new food agency in Helsinki or in the Italian town of Parma. Berlusconi has no doubts: "Parma is synonymous with good cuisine. The Finns don't even know what prosciutto is."
Finland's response was just as memorable. The Helsingin Sanomat newspaper went out with an entire page reading: "Prosciutto is ham. Now over 1,200,000 Finns know it. Satisfied, Mr. Berlusconi?"
The EU eventually assigned the agency to Italy, but Berlusconi managed to anger the Finns further by saying that in order to persuade the Finnish PM Tarja Halonen into giving up the bid, he had to "use all his playboy tactics." Finland summoned Italy's ambassador.
In August 2004 Berlusconi is joined by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in the Sardinian resort of Porto Rotondo. He welcomes him by sporting an all-white outfit which included a print bandana. Allegedly, he used it to cover a recent hair transplant. It remains one of Berlusconi's most memorable looks.
In this Monday Aug. 16, 2004 photo, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi sports a print bandanna on his head and a white, loose-fitting shirt with matching white shoes AP© Provided by Africanews
Nazi jibe outrage
2003 was possibly the worst start ever to an EU rotating presidency. Berlusconi addresses the EU parliament in Strasbourg and leaves everyone speechless by comparing German MEP Martin Schulz to a "kapo", a Nazi concentration camp guard.
Schulz had dared to question him about a conflict of interest.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg 02 July 2003, GERARD CERLES/2003 AFP© Provided by Africanews
The 'tanned Obama' gaffe and the picture with Michelle
In 2008, Barack Obama became the first black president of the United States. Speaking in a press conference, Berlusconi said Obama would be easy to get along with, as he "is young, handsome and...tanned." Many burst into laughter, but much of the rest of the world didn't find the joke all that funny.
The pair eventually met at the Pittsburgh G20 in 2009, where they took a picture with Michelle Obama. Berlusconi appears to compliment her look. Barack Obama does not look amused.
Silvio Berlusconi and Barack Obama at a G20 dinner on September 24, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania JEWEL SAMAD/AFP© Provided by Africanews
The L'Aquila earthquake comments
In 2009, a devastating earthquake hit the town of L'Aquila. There were hundreds of fatalities and almost 30,000 people were displaced. Berlusconi visited a refugee camp and triesd somehow to cheer people up by saying that they should see their temporary homelessness as a "camping holiday."
Crisis? What crisis?
It's 2011. Europe is gripped by the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and Italy is perilously edging towards default.
Berlusconi, however, sees it differently. Speaking at the Cannes G20, he says there is not much to worry about after all because, if you look around, "restaurants are packed and booking a flight ticket is almost impossible."
He was forced to resign less than two weeks later, replaced by a technocrat government that would try to rescue Italy's finances with "blood and tears" measures.
Silvio Berlusconi plays the pirate with a knife before cutting a cake at the "No Tax Day" meeting in Rome, 11 December 2004 Antonio Calanni/AP© Provided by Africanews
The Bunga-Bunga tapes
Speaking about his new year's eve in a 2009 wire-tapped phone call, Berlusconi says: "Yesterday evening I had a queue outside my room... there were eleven of them: I only did eight because I couldn't do more, you can't get to everything."
His views about gays
Addressing an automotive fair in Milan in 2010, he said: "I'm like that, at times I do happen to take a look at beautiful girls. But it's better to have a passion for girls than to be gay."
Berlusconi wasn't just a great marketer, he brought self-confidence to a whole new level. Speaking at a rally before the 2006 general election, he stated: “I'm the Jesus Christ of politics, a victim. I bear anything and sacrifice myself for all".
Sunglasses in parliament
This wasn't an embarrassing moment, really, as he was recovering from an eye-surgery. But the look basically made every newspaper frontpage.
Silvio Berlusconi pictured at the Italian Senate in Rome on March 16, 2013 AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO LINGRIA© Provided by Africanews