Italian centre-right parties confirmed on Friday they wanted Mr Berlusconi to be the next president of Italy and said in a joint statement that they would seek wide support for him in parliament.
Following a meeting at Mr Berlusconi’s Rome villa, the centre-right chiefs said: “The leaders of the coalition have agreed that Silvio Berlusconi is the right person to hold this high office at these difficult times.”
The move sparked outrage in Brussels when European People’s Party chief Manfred Weber endorsed the former Italian prime minister as a “strong leader”.
He told Italian daily Corriere della Sera: “Given this political context of uncertainty, we now need experience and stability.
“We greatly appreciate the work done by Mario Draghi as prime minister, Italy is once again relevant thanks to his leadership and this prospect is long-term.
“And as leader of the EPP I support Berlusconi for the presidency of the Republic, because he has shown that he has the knowledge to fill the position, he has the experience, he already has the network, he knows the EU partners and can speak to them directly, he has shown that he can get out of the political arena even though he was the strong leader of the center-right for over twenty years.
“Now he has expressed his will for this new responsibility and has the support of friends in Europe.”
Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt condemned the EPP’s backing.
He blasted: “Bunga bunga for president… with the EPP support.
“After years of tolerating Orbán the EPP shows it hasn’t changed or learnt anything: power over principle.”
READ MORE: Boris Johnson given just THREE WEEKS to keep energy princes down
Neither of the two main blocs has enough support to ram through a candidate for head of state and the PD has called on all parties to try to build consensus around a figure who is not as divisive as the 85-year-old Mr Berlusconi.
The anti-system Five-Star Movement, which has the largest number of parliamentarians, reiterated on Friday that it could never support Mr Berlusconi, who has been convicted of tax fraud and still faces trial tied to his “bunga bunga” sex parties.
Five-Star vice president Mario Turco said: “Today it is necessary to put aside party affiliation, all the political forces must converge on a figure who can represent Italians and the country.”
The centre-right bloc includes the League, the Brothers of Italy and Mr Berlusconi’s own Forza Italia.
Although some of their supporters have expressed reservations about Mr Berlusconi, Friday’s statement pledged to try to build “wide support” for him among MPs.
It also called on the former prime minister to say openly that he wanted the role.
Although there are no formal candidates at the presidential election, Mr Berlusconi has been campaigning tirelessly behind the scenes to convince MPs to vote for him and has mobilised his media empire behind his bid.
The 85-year-old billionaire media tycoon, who served four terms as premier, is the formal candidate of Italy’s centre-right alliance and controls three national television channels, a daily newspaper and several magazines.
Many commentators say Mr Berlusconi’s background – he was convicted of tax fraud and held “bunga bunga” sex parties – make him a far from ideal candidate, and on paper he lacks the broad parliamentary backing required.
Yet, shrugging off these concerns and recent chronic health problems, Mr Berlusconi has launched a media campaign reminiscent of those that helped him win three national elections.