Sicily's regional governor Renato Schifani has praised foreign minister and veteran politician Antonio Tajani, saying he is "the natural candidate" to become the conservative Forza Italia party's next leader.
"Tajani has worked well. I have always maintained that he is the natural candidate and that he will succeed Berlusconi as Forza Italia leader," Schifani said.
Following its late leader and founder Silvio Berlusconi's death in June, Tajani, 70, was appointed Forza Italia's interim secretary until the party elects a new leader at its next congress.
"The issue now is the party's political direction. I have stated openly that Forza Italia needs to turn itself into a pluralistic party...with great courage and sense of responsibility," said Schifani.
Forza Italia must "open up to all those who identify with the values of the European People's Party", Schifani said, referring to the centre-right, pro-European grouping of over 82 parties from 43 countries.
"In this I feel I can interpret what party president Berlusconi always thought: Forza Italia should be a open-minded party willing to dialogue with all those who seek to implement the liberal values he always fought for," Schifani underlined.