President Sergio Mattarella said it was "irresponsible" to put European freedom of movement at risk, when asked about the possible closure of Italy's Austrian border at a Tallinn press conference.
Salvini, the leader of the nationalist League party who has forged alliances with other far-right European groups, called for a Europe-wide alliance against "mass immigration" at a rally over the weekend, having earlier announced that Italian ports would be closed "all summer" to NGO migrant rescue boats.
Meanwhile, the Austrian government said in a statement at the weekend that it was "ready to take measures to protect our southern borders in particular," those with Italy and Slovenia.
Speaking in Estonia on Wednesday, Mattarella did not mention Salvini specifically, but said that young Italians "feel European" and that for them, freedom of movement is "an irrevocable fact", singling out the Erasmus exchange programme and Schengen area as two examples of the EU's "spirit".
He also appealed for discussion about migration and border policy to be based on rationality rather than emotions. "From the middle of 2017 to mid-2018, the arrivals to Italy across the Mediterranean have fallen by 85 percent," the president noted. "Talking about borders to close isn't rational, but is a response to emotions felt or evoked. Political responsibility requires rationality."
Visita di Stato in #Estonia, #Mattarella:Erasmus e Schengen, i nostri giovani si sentono europei, metterli a rischio è poco responsabile, parlare di chiusura di confini è da evitare. Non cedere a emotività, la responsabilità politica richiede razionalità pic.twitter.com/FYVmukqNHt— Quirinale (@Quirinale) July 4, 2018
Salvini also faced criticism on Wednesday from the head of Italy's national social security institute (INPS) Tito Boeri, who said Italy's pension system relied on migrant workers and that obstacles to legal immigration put Italian social security at risk.
The Italian pension system would not be able to "compensate for a fall in people arriving into our labour market", Boeri warned at a presentation of the agency's yearly report.
"Our country needs to increase legal immigration," he continued, adding that Italians underestimate the size of the over-65 age group in Italy, and overestimate the number of immigrants and young people.
Population forecasts predict 27 percent of Italians will be aged over 64 by 2030, compared to just 18 percent at the start of the century. By contrast, the share of population aged between 25 and 44 decreased from 30.6 to 26.3 percent in the last 15 years.
Salvini responded to the comments on social media, asking: "Where does [Boeri] live, Mars?"
He accused the INSP president of "continuing to politicize, ignoring many Italians' desire to work".
Italy has a high rate of unemployment, particularly among the younger generations, with many of those who are in work on precarious contracts.
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP