Merkel’s Italian Holiday Fans Europe’s North-South Crisis Flames

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s vacation in Italy threatened to inflame Europe’s north-south tensions after she was snapped in a bathing suit by paparazzi and challenged by a regional leader to heed the economic woes around her.

Merkel’s deputy spokesman, Georg Streiter, had to respond to reporters’ questions in Berlin yesterday about whether the chancellor had witnessed “anti-German” sentiment during her sojourn on the island of Ischia, and if she had felt insulted by the video message made by the Campania region governor. Saying she felt “very comfortable” on Ischia, Streiter made it clear Merkel was unhappy about being photographed without her consent.

“Merkel’s secret family life,” Germany’s best-selling Bild newspaper said on its front page today alongside pictures of the chancellor fully clothed and with a small child it said was her husband’s grandson from his first marriage. “Merkel as we’ve never seen her,” said the picture caption.

Merkel, who closely guards her privacy, was photographed during her Easter vacation on the Italian island west of Naples where she is a regular visitor. Pictures of her on Ischia in a bathing suit were carried earlier this week on websites including the Hamburger Morgenpost newspaper.

Telephoto Lens

“These are all photos that were taken from some hiding place,” Streiter said. “If you know the chancellor, you know that she has no great desire to pose,” he said. “You can imagine that it’s not very relaxing to go on holiday somewhere and have the feeling that a telephoto lens is poking out of every corner.”

At the same government press conference, the first since the Easter weekend, Streiter refused to be drawn on a report that Merkel was offended by the message of welcome from Campania Governor Stefano Caldoro, a former minister under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

In the video, posted on his website on March 30, Caldoro said he was “happy, happy” that Merkel had chosen to holiday in his region, yet urged her to look around at “the difficult areas,” including youth unemployment levels 10 times those of Germany.

“Can we allow ourselves this double Europe?” Caldoro said. “Must we stoke this anti-German sentiment? No, we must fight these sentiments against others. But there is some reflection that Chancellor Merkel has to do. The strongest country benefitting from the crisis afflicting others? This Europe can’t persist.”

Home for Lunch

Italian media including newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that Merkel went to the home of Cristoforo Iacono, 59, for lunch the day before Easter after discovering the long-time employee of her habitual vacation spot, the Miramare hotel in Sant’Angelo, had been fired.

Merkel noticed Iacono’s absence at the hotel and asked about him, Corriere reported yesterday. Merkel’s acquaintance with Iacono dates from before her time as chancellor, it quoted Iacono’s daughter, Marianna Iacono, as saying in an interview.

“Mrs. Merkel didn’t find my father in the hotel and having learned he was fired came to our house to see him,” the daughter was cited as saying. “She sat down for lunch with us. Merkel has known my father for a lifetime, from even before she became head of government. We were very happy to have her at our house,” she told Corriere.

Rosario Caruso, the local mayor of Serrara Fontana, told the newspaper that she approved.

“It was a nice gesture that shows Mrs. Merkel’s attention to human relationships and her particular sensibility,” said Caruso.

Merkel will remain on Ischia until April 5, Bild reported, without saying where it got the information.

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