ROME (Reuters) - Italy's first family soap opera was back on the front pages on Wednesday after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's wife said his party's selection of women to run in European elections was a "shamelessly trashy" process.
Veronica Berlusconi, who has publicly lamented her husband's eye for younger women in the past, also accused him of going to the birthday bash of an 18-year-old woman in Naples but not attending the coming-of-age-parties of his own children.
Veronica, 52, who rarely appears with her husband, said she agreed with Italian newspapers' descriptions of her husband's party's choice of female candidates as "entertainment for the emperor," in what newspapers saw as a reference to him.
The latest public clash between the Berlusconis, which dominated mainstream newspaper front pages along with swine flu and Fiat's rescue of Chrysler, follows a media debate over "starlets in politics."
"Women in Politics -- Veronica's Wrath," was the way La Stampa of Turin put it.
In an e-mail to Italian news agency Ansa, she praised politicians such as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then added:
"But what's happening today (in Italy) behind a front of bodily curves and female beauty is grave." She added that it offended all women and particularly those who had fought in the "frontline" for women's equality.
Her 72-year-old husband, speaking to reporters during a trip to Warsaw, said he was sorry his wife had apparently believed "what she read in the papers" and added that it was all "a campaign (against him) hyped by the leftist press."
The controversy exploded earlier this week when an on-line magazine close to Berlusconi's main conservative ally, lower house speaker Gianfranco Fini, criticized how center-right women candidates were being chosen for the June European elections.
That article, seen by some media as a reference to Berlusconi's party, said women politicians could not be used like "pieces of costume jewelry" to attract votes.
Berlusconi's People of Freedom party is considering a number of former actresses and television personalities as possible candidates in the June European election, media reports say. As party leader, he has a powerful voice in who makes the list.
"Some have written that it is all part of entertainment for the emperor. I agree," Veronica said. "What is emerging from newspapers is shamelessly trashy, all in the name of power."
Berlusconi told reporters in Warsaw it was "absurd" that women who speak several languages and have several degrees should consider themselves excluded from politics just because they had been on television or in show business.
Veronica Berlusconi also took her husband to task for recently dropping in at the birthday party in Naples of an 18-year-old woman whose father is a political acquaintance.
"That surprised me very much too," Veronica said, "Even because he never came to the 18th birthday parties of his children, even though he was invited."
Berlusconi has three children with Veronica and two by his first marriage. He has been in hot water with her several times in the past in a very public way.
Two years ago, she criticized him for flirting with young starlets at a party. He later issued a syrupy public apology in the press, saying: "I beg you to forgive me."
Additional reporting by Francesca Piscioneri in Warsaw; editing by Philippa Fletcher