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21st Sep 2019

Italy's PM Conte: no more anti-EU populism

  • Giuseppe Conte (c) with EU leaders at a previous summit in Brussels (Photo: Consilium)

Italy's anti-EU populism has ended, its prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, said on Monday (9 September), as far-right MPs tried to shout him down.

"We want to put behind us the din of useless declarations and belligerent, bombastic statements," Conte told the Italian lower house, referring to the rhetoric of Matteo Salvini, the former interior minister and the head of the far-right League party.

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"The language of this government will be mild-mannered," Conte added.

"I remain firmly convinced ... that it is within the confines of the European Union and not outside, that we must work for the good of Italians," he also said, in a 90-minute speech which mentioned the words "Europe" and "European" 32 times.

He did not say he would undo Salvini's laws on banning migrant rescue boats from bringing people to Italy.

He also repeated old calls for better EU burden-sharing, saying that "solidarity has been announced, but this announcement hasn't turned to facts yet".

And he repeated calls for the EU to relax its fiscal rules so that Italy could spend more now welfare despite its debt pile.

The EU's stability and growth pact must be "improved", he added.

But the 55-year old former law professor signalled a break with Salvini's ideas as well as his style on trade and on the environment.

"Protectionism is never the appropriate answer" and the new government was drafting a "courageous and innovative ... 'Green New Deal'," Conte said.

He also suggested holding a special summit on EU reform in a proposal which might come up when he visits Brussels on Wednesday.

MPs backed Conte's new coalition in a confidence vote by 343 to 263 out of 630 seats in the lower house after he spoke.

The senate, where the government has a smaller majority of just a few seats, is due to vote on Tuesday.

"It is going to be difficult and complicated. A sense of responsibility has prevailed. Now we must roll up our sleeves and try to do the best for the country," the new culture minister, Dario Francheschini, also said on Monday, according to the Reuters news agency.

The new coalition was formed by the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement (5MS) party and the centre-left Democratic Party after Salvini tried to force snap elections in his bid to lead Italy.

But Salvini's MPs jeered Conte's speech on Monday in a sign of ongoing turbulence in Italian politics.

They called him a "buffoon" and cried out for "Elections! Elections!" in scenes they also replicated at a public rally outside the Italian parliament in Rome.

"Inside, there's the regime that knows it's about to fall and is acting like Marie Antoinette," Salvini told the crowd, referring to the old regime before the French revolution in 1789.

"We will be a serious opposition, in parliament but also among the people, from north to south, one town after another," the League chief said.

Italy: Conte won, Salvini lost

Italy's far-right deputy leader, Matteo Salvini, wanted it all. He gambled on elections, but instead he got a new government composed of his arch-enemies and himself out in the cold.

Salvini calls for new elections in Italy

League leader and deputy prime minister says he is candidate to be prime minister and that his party is ready to call elections. The latest opinion polls puts the League on 36 percent.

Opinion

Dismiss Italy's Salvini at your peril

Matteo Salvini's recent gambit may have failed, but, in his own words: "From today you will find me even more pissed off and determined. I will go from town to town and we will take this country back."

Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs

European People's Party group leader Manfred Weber defended Ursula von der Leyen's decision to rename a commission portfolio, partly dealing with migration, "protecting the European way of life". He said it means rescuing people in the Mediterranean.

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