Despite official EU discouragement, the new Italian Government has renewed its campaign to have the historic and gourmet City of Parma, in its so-called Food Valley, become the seat of the proposed European food safety agency.

Giovanni Alemanno, the new Agriculture Minister in the centre-right coalition government head by business magnate Silvio Berlusconi, said another choice such as Helsinki would be “unbelievable.” He also called a recent statement by EU Commission President Romano Prodi, a native son hailing from the Parma area, that Luxembourg is the favourite “incomprehensible.”

Prodi had said Luxembourg is in pole position for the hotly contested seat because of its proximity to Brussels and already established EU offices, citing economy reasons. Other candidates, besides Parma and Helsinki, are believed to include Barcelona, Lille and even Brussels itself.

Parma, noted for its Parmigiano cheese, Parma-ham and the headquarters of food companys such as Barilla and Parmalat, is citing its food tradition, agricultural research centres and easy access in pushing its candidacy. It has offered a 16-century palace as the seat of the agency. Helsinki has been proposed partly because Finland lacks a major EU office in the country.

Alemannno also said Premier Berlusconi is likely to lobby G8 heads at their forthcoming meeting later this month in Genoa. The Minister is expected to attend a demonstration scheduled in Parma in favour of its candidacy at the time of the G8 Summit.

By Hilmi Toros, correspondent