Napolitano cancels dinner over clown remark
Peer Steinbrueck: set to take on Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany's next national election
Italian president Giorgio Napolitano cancelled a dinner with the German opposition's chancellor candidate today after he described Italian former premier Silvio Berlusconi and comic-turned-politician Beppe Grillo as "clowns".
Peer Steinbrueck, a Social Democrat who will take on Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany's next national election in September, has a reputation for gaffes and his remark created the first diplomatic incident of his accident-prone campaign.
Mr Steinbrueck said yesterday he was "appalled that two clowns have won" Italy's election. The vote was actually inconclusive with no party gaining a majority, although Mr Grillo's protest party surged dramatically.
Mr Napolitano, an 87-year-old former communist with no natural affinity for either Berlusconi or Grillo, now faces the difficult task of trying to appoint a coalition government.
Italian media said he had expressed concern about "populism" after the election result in a private meeting during his visit to Germany, but these comments could not be confirmed.
As head of state, he may have felt duty-bound to defend the dignity of Italy's political institutions.
The German candidate's spokesman said Mr Napolitano cancelled "because of Steinbrueck's remarks on Tuesday" and added that the SPD politician "understood Napolitano's domestic political reasons for cancelling".
Mr Napolitano's spokesman was unavailable for comment.
Mr Napolitano and Mr Steinbrueck had been scheduled to meet over dinner at a Berlin hotel. Mr Napolitano is due to meet Merkel in the German capital tomorrow.
Mr Steinbrueck made it absolutely clear in his comments to an SPD rally in Potsdam he was referring to Grillo and Berlusconi, calling the latter "clearly a clown with a testosterone boost".
"My impression is that two populists won," he said.
Mr Berlusconi, a scandal-ridden billionaire media mogul, is very unpopular in Germany and often slated in the media.
But Mr Steinbrueck did himself no favours with his frank talk.
German politicians are expected to strike a serious tone and refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of European partners. On Twitter, some commentators dismissed the acerbic Mr Steinbrueck as the "real clown".