Euro MPs rounded on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday, accusing him of arranging talks with EU officials to avoid a hearing with prosecutors probing a sex and blackmail scandal.
"The fact that Berlusconi tries to exploit European institutions for personal ends is problematic," said Martin Schulz, the German leader of the Socialist bloc who has often sparred with the conservative Italian premier.
Greens group deputy leader Rebecca Harms also took aim at Berlusconi.
"I think it is absolutely deplorable that he hides behind European institutions and tries to avoid this meeting" with prosecutors in Italy, she said.
Berlusconi met with EU president Herman Van Rompuy in Brussels on Tuesday before heading to Strasbourg for talks with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and EU Parliament speaker Jerzy Buzek.
Berlusconi and Van Rompuy issued press statements about measures launched by Rome to reduce its deficit and debt, which have caused deep concerns in the markets, but they refused to take questions from reporters.
The meetings were arranged at the request of Berlusconi to discuss his efforts to clean up Italy's finances.
Italy's opposition and media say Berlusconi scheduled the meetings abroad to avoid a meeting in Rome with prosecutors who wanted to talk to him as a presumed victim of a blackmail attempt by Italian businessman Giampaolo Tarantini.
Tarantini, arrested on 1 September, is suspected of having demanded hundreds of millions of euros from Berlusconi in exchange for silence about raunchy parties at the billionaire politician's homes.
The leader of the conservative group in the EU Parliament, Joseph Daul, voiced support for the embattled Italian leader, saying the priority was to resolve the debt crisis.
"There is time to see judges in Italy," Daul said.