Berlusconi to lobby EU on behalf of Russian travellers

Following a meeting with Vladimir Putin, Italy's Prime Minister-elect Silvio Berlusconi says he'll urge the EU to ease visa restrictions for Russians. Italy is a signatory of the Schengen agreement. Putin in turn stressed the importance of developing trad

Speaking to journalists, Putin welcomed positive developments in Russia-Italian relations, especially in the economic sphere. He noted in 2007 alone trade turnover between the two countries reached a record of $US 36 billion.

Putin said he hoped the economic co-operation between the two nations would continue. Congratulating Berlusconi on his recent victory in the parliamentary election, he called for increased dialogue between the countries.

“Today’s meeting in itself proves our mutual intentions for the strengthening of our partnership,” he said. “New governments will be formed in both Russia and Italy. It’s essential for us that these inner processes do not obstruct our partnership but contribute to an active dialogue.”

As for Silvio Berlusconi, he said it was important for him to hold these talks before he officially became Italy’s premier.

Berlusconi outlined the necessity to boost co-operation with Russia in the field of energy. Russian and Italian energy giants Gazprom and Eni agreed earlier on a number of joint projects, Blue Stream being one of them.

The possible sale of struggling Italian airline Alitalia was also discussed at the meeting.

“When talks with Air France are over, we can possibly talk about the enlargement of international partnership,” Berlusconi said.

Putin said he had talked to the chairman of the Aeroflot board of directors “and they say they are ready to resume talks with their Italian partners.”

In addition, Berlusconi urged both countries to work towards lifting visa restrictions.

“I am convinced that there’s a need to give up the practice of using visas. I have taken on an obligation to discuss this issue within the EU,” he said.

However, the next Italian Premier said he needed the consent of all the EU members before this could be implemented.