European Parliament President Tajani set to be Italy prime minster after Berlusconi invite

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Mr Tajani announced yesterday he would stand as Forza Italia’s prime ministerial candidate in the March 4 vote - putting him in pole position for the post.

Barred from holding office himself, 81-year-old Mr Berlusconi announced Mr Tajani was his preferred candidate this week.

And yesterday, Mr Tajani tweeted his thanks for the ex-Italian leader’s “gesture of respect’.

He wrote: “I told him that I was willing to serve Italy."

Antonio Tajani was invited by Berlusconi

GETTYAntonio Tajani was invited by Berlusconi

Mr Berlusconi welcomed Tajani's announcement shortly after an appearance on a talk show on one of the media magnate's own TV channels.

He said: "I know it's a shame to take Antonio Tajani away from Europe, but it's in the best interest of Italy," Berlusconi said.

Mr Tajani, 64, has been one of Mr Berlusconi's most loyal lieutenants.

He stood by his side when the veteran leader, engulfed by sex scandals, was forced to resign as prime minister in 2011 at the height of a sovereign debt crisis.

Antonio Tajani is European Parliament presidentGETTY

Antonio Tajani is currently European Parliament president

Friday is the last day of campaigning allowed before the Sunday vote.

Mr Berlusconi's centre-right alliance was predicted to win the most seats before a poll blackout came into force on February 16, but still fall short of a governing majority.

His coalition partners include the anti-migrant League and nationalist Brothers of Italy.

They have agreed that if the bloc wins an absolute majority on Sunday, the party which takes the most votes can pick the next premier.

Silvio Berlusconi's coalition could gain powerGETTY

Silvio Berlusconi's coalition could gain power

Polls had showed Forza Italia maintaining a steady lead over the League. But, ultimately, it is President Sergio Mattarella who makes the choice.

Mr Tajani was elected to the European Parliament in 1994 and has spent much of his political career in Brussels.

He became president of the EU assembly in January, 2017 when Martin Schulz left the job to return to national German politics.

His pro-European credentials means he will not be welcomed with open arms by either of his coalition partners, which are both eurosceptic