Further to my post on the heated meeting, here is the article published in The Times today -
Bob Geldof joined the Pope to turn up the pressure on Silvio Berlusconi yesterday with a strident attack on the Italian Prime Minister’s record on aid before this week’s G8 summit.
In a hard-hitting interview published yesterday, Geldof forced Mr Berlusconi to apologise for failing by a huge margin to meet his commitments on fighting poverty.
Shown figures by Geldof proving that Italy had cut aid after promising large increases, Mr Berlusconi said: “I am sorry, we made a mistake . . . Our Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti has made a commitment to readjust in line with our undertakings within three years.” The singer and antipoverty campaigner labelled Mr Berlusconi “Mr 3 Per Cent”, saying that he had delivered only 3 per cent of the aid that Italy pledged at the G8 meeting at Gleneagles in 2005, when Mr Berlusconi was last in office.
“How can you lead the G8? Where is your credibility?” asked Mr Geldof, who guest-edited La Stampa, the Turin daily, for a day. Mr Berlusconi admitted that Italy was “behind with its payments” but said that after Gleneagles he had been out of power for two and a half years, blaming the intervening Government of Romano Prodi and the financial crisis.
When Mr Berlusconi complained that he was being “attacked by the press, the Left and magistrates”, Geldof brushed it aside as irrelevant.
At Gleneagles, the G8 countries vowed to increase aid to Africa by at least $26 billion (£16 billion) by 2010, later revised downward to $21.8 billion.
A report by Geldof’s ONE campaign group last month said that Italy was trailing behind other G8 nations in aid to Africa, putting the whole group’s performance at risk.
Mario Calabresi, the Editor of La Stampa, said that the interview had been “like a boxing match”, and at some points he had expected either Mr Berlusconi or Geldof “to get up and walk out”. He said the Italian leader was suffering from chronic neck pain. The interview followed an open letter from Pope Benedict XVI to Mr Berlusconi on Saturday urging the G8 leaders, whose meeting starts on Wednesday, to “defend the poor”.
The pontiff appealed to them to “listen to the voice of Africa”, adding that the economic crisis meant there was a “real risk not only that hopes of emerging from extreme poverty will be dashed but that populations that have benefited from a minimum of material wellbeing will fall into poverty.
“I appeal to G8 member states to maintain and boost development aid, not in spite of the crisis but precisely because this is one of the main solutions to it,” the pontiff said. He is to publish an encyclical, the most authoritative document a pope can issue, on poverty and globalisation tomorrow.
He praised Mr Berlusconi’s decision to move the summit from Sardinia to L’Aquila after the April 6 earthquake in Abruzzo, however, saying that the relief efforts there served as an example of how to “face challenges”.