Salvini slams Moscovici after Mussolini jibe

Italian 'Lega Nord' party leader Matteo Salvini delivers a speech during the yearly meeting of the party in Pontida, Bergamo district, Italy, 1 July 2018. [Paolo Magni/EPA/EFE]

The EU’s top economic official said on Thursday (13 September) he feared “little Mussolinis” might be emerging in Europe, drawing a furious response from Italy’s far-right interior minister who accused him of insulting his country and Italians.

Frenchman Pierre Moscovici, who is the European Union’s economics affairs commissioner, said the current political situation, with populist, far-right forces on the rise in many nations, resembled the 1930s when Germany’s Adolf Hitler and Italian fascist chief Benito Mussolini were in power.

“Fortunately there is no sound of jackboots, there is no Hitler, (but maybe there are) small Mussolinis. That remains to be seen,” he told reporters in Paris, speaking in a jocular fashion.

Moscovici, a former French finance minister, mentioned no names, but Matteo Salvini, who is a deputy prime minister and heads Italy’s anti-immigrant League, took it personally.

“He should wash his mouth out before insulting Italy, the Italians and their legitimate government,” Salvini said in a statement released by his office in Rome.

Salvini took advantage of the spat to set out once again his grievances with France, which he accuses of not doing enough to help deal with migrants from Africa and of having plunged Libya into chaos by helping to oust former strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

Italy cannot be 'Europe's refugee camp', Salvini says

Italy’s new hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini said Sunday that “common sense” was needed to stop the country from being “Europe’s refugee camp” as he visited a migrant centre in the south.

“EU Commissioner Moscovici, instead of censuring his France that rejects immigrants … has bombed Libya and has broken European (budget) parameters, attacks Italy and talks about ‘many little Mussolini’ around Europe,” Salvini said.

Too much debt

In other comments at the Paris event, Moscovici said Italy needed to cut wasteful spending and prioritise investment and infrastructure spending that will help stimulate growth and productivity.

“It’s in Italy’s interest to reduce its very high public debt,” Moscovici said. “It would be a lie to think one can invest more with a higher deficit. If that happens, you end up with more debt and less capacity to invest.”

Italy is preparing its 2019 budget, a process that has heightened tensions within the governing coalition, which comprises Salvini’s League and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.

Italy on collision course with EU over budget deficit

Party leaders in the Italian coalition government signalled they will seek leeway from the EU to increase next year’s budget deficit, heading on a collision course with the European Commission and investors who want it cut.

Yields on Italian bonds have risen sharply, reflecting investor concerns about the stability of Italy’s finances.

Moscovici said it was critical for Rome to come up with a workable budget.

“The Italian budget needs to be credible, credible at a nominal level but also credible in terms of the structural reforms that are required,” he said. “There needs to be a significant effort on the structural side.”

Moscovici added that he was working closely with Italy’s finance minister in what he described as a “constructive climate” and said he hoped that would continue.

Moscovici has ambitions to be the socialist Spitzenkandidat in the race to succeed Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Moscovici begins angling for Juncker's job

With Jean-Claude Juncker now over the half-way point of his term at the head of the European Commission, the jostling ahead of the 2019 presidential contest has already begun. Juncker has always said he will not stand for a second term. EURACTIV Spain reports.

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