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POLITICS

Luxembourg foreign minister compares Italy’s Matteo Salvini to fascist

Luxembourgish Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn drew the ire of Italy's Matteo Salvini on Sunday after accusing the far-right interior minister of using "fascist" methods, in a worsening spat over immigration between the two men.

Luxembourg foreign minister compares Italy's Matteo Salvini to fascist
Italy's Matteo Salvini (L) and Jean Asselborn of Luxembourg at a meeting earlier this year. Photo: Barbara Gindl/APA/AFP

The pair first clashed Friday at an EU meeting in Vienna when Salvini referred to African migrants as “slaves”. His remarks prompted an angry outburst from Asselborn who has defended immigration as necessary to counter Europe's ageing population.

Salvini later shared a video of the row on his Facebook page along with comments aimed at further taunting the Luxembourgish minister.

In an interview with German media, Asselborn denounced Salvini for using “the methods and tone of the fascists from the 30s”.

“I stand by what I said,” he told Spiegel Online this weekend, adding: “It was a calculated provocation.”

READ MORE: Italy's Salvini faces probe into treatment of stranded migrants

Salvini, whose anti-immigration League party is part of Italy's ruling coalition, hit back on Sunday.

“The Socialist minister of the fiscal paradise of Luxembourg calls me a 'fascist' today after comparing our Italian emigrant grandparents to today's illegal migrants and after interrupting my speech,” the 32-year-old tweeted.

“If he likes immigrants so much, he can have them all, we've already received too many in Italy.”

Despite a sharp fall in the numbers of asylum-seekers in Europe since the crisis erupted in 2015, the issue remains one of the most contentious within the EU and is expected to be high on the agenda at an informal EU summit in Austria this week.

Frontline state Italy has adopted a much tougher anti-migrant stance since the League formed a government with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement in June. 

“In Italy we feel it's necessary to help our children make more children. And not to have new slaves to replace the children we're no longer having,” Salvini was filmed saying at Friday's EU meeting, which was closed to the press.

Asselborn, seated two places down from Salvini, can be seen exclaiming in the video: “That's going too far!”

Unfazed, the Italian interior minister continued: “If you in Luxembourg need more immigration, I prefer to keep Italy for Italians and that we start having children again.”

Asselborn, visibly agitated, interrupted Salvini at this point.

“In Luxembourg, sir, we have dozens of thousands of Italians! They came as migrants, they worked in Luxembourg so you in Italy would have money for your children,” he said, adding: “Merde alors [goddammit]!”. 

READ ALSO: 

ITALIAN POLITICS

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Italy’s government was plunged into turmoil on Tuesday as foreign minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving his party to start a breakaway group.

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Di Maio said his decision to leave the Five Star Movement (M5S) – the party he once led – was due to its “ambiguity” over Italy’s support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

He accused the party’s current leader, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, of undermining the coalition government’s efforts to support Ukraine and weakening Italy’s position within the EU.

“Today’s is a difficult decision I never imagined I would have to take … but today I and lots of other colleagues and friends are leaving the Five Star Movement,” Di Maio told a press conference on Tuesday.

“We are leaving what tomorrow will no longer be the first political force in parliament.”

His announcement came after months of tensions within the party, which has lost most of the popular support that propelled it to power in 2018 and risks being wiped out in national elections due next year.

The split threatens to bring instability to Draghi’s multi-party government, formed in February 2021 after a political crisis toppled the previous coalition.

As many as 60 former Five Star lawmakers have already signed up to Di Maio’s new group, “Together for the Future”, media reports said.

Di Maio played a key role in the rise of the once anti-establishment M5S, but as Italy’s chief diplomat he has embraced Draghi’s more pro-European views.

READ ALSO: How the rebel Five Star Movement joined Italy’s establishment

Despite Italy’s long-standing political and economic ties with Russia, Draghi’s government has taken a strongly pro-NATO stance, sending weapons and cash to help Ukraine while supporting EU sanctions against Russia.

Di Maio backed the premier’s strong support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, including sending weapons for Kyiv to defend itself.

In this he has clashed with the head of Five Star, former premier Giuseppe Conte, who argues that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution.

Di Maio attacked his former party without naming Conte, saying: “In these months, the main political force in parliament had the duty to support the diplomacy of the government and avoid ambiguity. But this was not the case,” he said.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“In this historic moment, support of European and Atlanticist values cannot be a mistake,” he added.

The Five Star Movement, he said, had risked the stability of the government “just to try to regain a few percentage points, without even succeeding”.

But a majority of lawmakers – including from the Five Star Movement – backed Draghi’s approach in March and again in a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Draghi earlier on Tuesday made clear his course was set.

“Italy will continue to work with the European Union and with our G7 partners to support Ukraine, to seek peace, to overcome this crisis,” he told the Senate, with Di Maio at his side.

“This is the mandate the government has received from parliament, from you. This is the guide for our action.”

The Five Star Movement stormed to power in 2018 general elections after winning a third of the vote on an anti-establishment ticket, and stayed in office even after Draghi was parachuted in to lead Italy in February 2021.

But while it once threatened to upend the political order in Italy, defections, policy U-turns and dismal polling have left it struggling for relevance.

“Today ends the story of the Five Star Movement,” tweeted former premier Matteo Renzi, who brought down the last Conte government by withdrawing his support.

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