MIDWAY: No-limits sports

Earlier this year, many Italians were puffing out their chests as Turin-born Carla Bruni became Madame Nicolas Sarkozy. Comparisons were drawn with Catherine de’ Medici, who in effect ruled Italy’s northern neighbour for 30 years after the death of her husband, Henry II. But this week Bruni completed her slide from heroine to hate figure, at least in the eyes of more conservative former compatriots, by telling Journal du Dimanche that Silvio Berlusconi’s description of US president-elect Barack Obama as “suntanned” had made her glad to be French.

Prominent figures expressed disgust, including the former head of state Francesco Cossiga.

“We Italians too are glad,” he said, “that Mrs Sarkozy is no longer Italian.” However, a member of Berlusconi’s governing majority has queried whether Bruni is, in fact, as French as she claims. Giving up Italian citizenship is not easy. Guglielmo Picchi of the rightwing Freedom People movement has tabled a question for the interior minister, asking “which procedures she is meant to have followed for the renunciation [of her Italian nationality]”.

Disillusion with the model-turned-singer set in last month when it emerged that she had intervened to block the extradition from France of a former Red Brigades terrorist, Marina Petrella, who faces life imprisonment in Italy. Petrella’s health deteriorated sharply when she learned she could be sent back. In August, she was released from jail and admitted to a Paris hospital. Bruni was reported to have gone to her bedside to break the news of her reprieve in person.

Blunter comments than Cossiga’s have been peppering the blogosphere ever since her criticism of Berlusconi. “Keep her for good — and give us back the Mona Lisa,” wrote one. “Why does she have to be ashamed of 60 million people instead of one?” Her rebuke will do her husband no harm with the incoming US president, and may be seen as confirmation that relations between Sarkozy and the Italian leader are cooling.

Meanwhile, the daily Italia Oggi said that perhaps both Bruni’s and Berlusconi’s lack of sensitivity suggested Italians might be pioneering a trend for “extreme diplomacy” — the international relations equivalent of no-limits sports.