Italy’s prime minister has argued for a closer relationship between America and Europe. Silvio Berlusconi was invited to address the US Congress – an honour reserved for Washington’s most favoured allies. The speech is seen as a potential boost for his campaign for re-election in the parliamentary poll next month. “It is essential that relations between the United States and the European Union remain strong and healthy,” Berlusconi said.“It is this conviction which has prompted me to take on a diplomatic initiative to make sure that Europe does not weaken its ties with America because of developments in Iraq.” The prime minister enjoyed several standing ovations, for example when he remarked that when he saw the Stars and Stripes he did not see the US flag, but a symbol of freedom and democracy. Previous guests at Congress include British leader Tony Blair and Spain’s ex-premier Jose Maria Aznar. Like Berlusconi, they backed the Iraq war.