Silvio Berlusconi has an eye for pretty girls with a background in showbusiness and has brought some of them into parliament and even his Cabinet to brighten up politics.
Even by his standards, though, Mr Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, has chosen a striking roster of candidates to give his party a new face for the European Parliament elections in June, including a Big Brother star and a Miss Italy contestant.
None has any known political experience although Angela Sozio, 36, a flame-haired former contestant of Grande Fratello, the Italian version of Big Brother, made the headlines two years ago when the paparazzi photographed her and other showgirls strolling hand-in-hand with Mr Berlusconi, 72, at Villa Certosa, his villa in Sardinia.
The photographs, which appeared in the mass circulation magazine Oggi under the headline “Berlusconi’s Harem”, showed some of the women sitting on the Prime Minister’s knee. He insisted that he was being hospitable in showing the women round his seaside estate while his wife, the former actress Veronica Lario, was at her villa near Milan.
The future politicians also include Eleonora Gaggioli, an actress best known for her role in the popular television costume drama Elisa di Rivombosa; Camilla Ferranti, who appeared in Incantesimo, a soap opera set in a cosmetic surgery clinic, and Barbara Matera, who competed in the heats for the 2000 Miss Italy contest and went on to become an announcer on the state television channel Rai.
To prepare for Strasbourg, the prospective women MEPs were given a political crash course by the cream of Italian politics. At the headquarters of the centre-right People of Liberty (PdL) party they received a seminar in European history and current affairs, Nato, the European Central Bank and the IMF from Franco Frattini, the Foreign Minister, Ignazio La Russa, the Defence Minister, and Mr Berlusconi.
He told the women: “You will have to study and prepare yourselves on all the workings of the institutions of Europe as well as the international ones.”
Party officials said that the final selection from a shortlist of candidates would be made in the next few days, but added that the four were guaranteed to stand. European elections in Italy are held under a proportional representation system, with parties issuing regional lists of preferred candidates.
“I want young faces, new faces, to renew the image of Italy and the PdL in Europe,” Mr Berlusconi said.
He said that a poll had given him 73.5 per cent, making him the “best-loved leader in the world”, ahead of President Lula da Silva of Brazil (69.4 per cent) and President Obama (59.5 per cent), although he did not say where the findings appeared.
A poll in La Repubblica this week gave the Prime Minister a personal popularity rating of 56 per cent, up four points, and his Government 46 per cent, up two points.
The women will follow in the footsteps of such glamorous figures as Mara Carfagna, the topless model who became Minister for Equal Opportunities.
The recruitment policy has landed the Prime Minister in marital hot water before. Two years ago Mr Berlusconi’s wife demanded — and got — a public apology when he was overheard telling Ms Carfagna at a television awards ceremony: “I’d go anywhere with you, even to a desert island. If I weren’t already married, I would marry you straight away.”
Ms Carfagna, who gained a law degree in Salerno before working in television variety shows and posing semi-naked for calendars, joined Forza Italia, Mr Berlusconi’s political party which is now part of the PdL, and was made a minister when the centre-Right won office in elections last year.