Saturday 23 February 2019

Populists to spark 'European Spring', Salvini tells Poles

Nationalist vow: Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini. Photo: Reuters
Nationalist vow: Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini. Photo: Reuters

Nick Squires

Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini called for an alliance with populists in Poland and elsewhere during a visit to Warsaw, setting the stage for a showdown with the EU establishment at European Parliament elections in May.

Mr Salvini, who leads the nationalist, anti-immigrant League party, pledged to create a "new European Spring" and to work with Poland's ruling populists.

It was his latest attempt to recruit Eurosceptic allies in a growing confrontation with the likes of French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He vowed to forge a "new equilibrium" that would challenge the traditional pro-EU axis between Paris and Berlin.

"The Europe that will be born in June will have a different pace compared to the one of today, which is guided by bureaucrats," said Mr Salvini, who is also Italy's interior minister, speaking alongside his Polish counterpart, Joachim Brudzinski.

"In Europe, one has always spoken about a French-German axis.

"We are preparing for a new equilibrium and a new energy in Europe.

"And Poland and Italy will be the protagonists of this new European Spring, of this rebirth of true European values."

Echoing nationalist populists such as Steve Bannon, former chief strategist to US President Donald Trump, he said that some EU leaders tried to deny Europe's "Judeo-Christian origins".

Mr Salvini arrived in Warsaw wearing a jacket with the word 'polizia', or police, on the back, two days after he was reprimanded by a union representing Italian firefighters for his penchant for donning firefighter and police uniforms at public events.

He has much in common with Poland's populists, including opposition to accepting migrants and criticism of the way in which Brussels imposes rules on national budgets.

But there are differences, too - notably Mr Salvini's admiration of and support for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Grzegorz Schetyna, Poland's main opposition leader, described Mr Salvini's party as a "nationalist, radical and pro-Russian party".

During his visit to Poland, Mr Salvini was highly critical of a deal reached during the day to allow 49 migrants to disembark from two NGO rescue ships in Malta.

The migrants have been stranded at sea, suffering from seasickness and dehydration, for nearly three weeks amid wrangling between Italy and Malta over who would accept them. Under the deal, they will be resettled in eight EU countries: Italy, Germany, France, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

The migrants, including a baby and several children, were rescued by the NGO ships on December 22 and 29 while attempting the dangerous crossing from Libya to Europe.

There were ecstatic cheers on board the Sea-Watch 3 when a crew member told them "we have a safe port, it's over", according to a video tweeted by the German NGO Sea Watch International, which operates one of the vessels.

But Mr Salvini said that he was opposed to the EU-brokered deal, saying that it would only encourage people smugglers in Libya to put more migrants to sea.

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