Francois Hollande, the French president, has dismissed speculation that Silvio Berlusconi might stand for a fourth term as the Italian premier.Mr Hollande said “I don’t think there is a very serious likelihood” of the 76-year-old Italian making another bid for public office.
Mr Berlusconi has hinted in recent weeks that he was interested in trying to regain the office he first held in 1994 but yesterday seemed to row back, telling a Belgian television channel he “so much to do” outside politics.
The former prime minister was this week romantically linked to a glamorous 27-year-old member of his People of Freedom party.
Mr Hollande’s comments came as EU leaders put a crisis-hit year behind them at their last summit of 2012, trumpeting hard-fought deals on Greece and banks but seemed to row back on reforms to fix the euro’s shortcomings.
“Even if the worse of the eurozone crisis is behind us, much still needs to be done. But all the hard work is beginning to pay off. A lot has been achieved over the course of a year,” said EU President Herman Van Rompuy.
Mr Van Rompuy hailed a deal clinched by finance ministers earlier to disburse much-needed funds to crisis-wracked Greece, saying it proved “the irreversibility of the eurozone and the euro.”
After a buy-back programme designed to reduce Greece’s debt mountain, Eurogroup head Jean-Claude Juncker said a first payment of 34.3 billion euros would be flowing to Athens “as early as next week.”
This instalment would go to help recapitalise Greece’s crisis-wracked banks, to be followed by another 14.8 billion euros in the first quarter of next year.
The accord prompted Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to declare that “Grexit”, the idea that Greece would be forced out of the 17-nation bloc, was “dead.”
“Greece is back on its feet,” declared an ecstatic Mr Samaras, who has pushed through painful economic reforms demanded by international creditors, sometimes in the face of violent street protests.
Mr Van Rompuy also declared as a “breakthrough” a deal that would see the eurozone’s largest banks come under the aegis of the European Central Bank from March 2014.
This is the first step on the path to what leaders hope will become a fully fledged banking union and paves the way for the European bailout funds to recapitalise directly struggling banks.