Italian former EU minister to advise Macron, prompting backlash at home

Sandro Gozi served as Italian EU affairs undersecretary for more than 4 years, from February 2014 to March 2018 [European Council]

Sandro Gozi, Italy’s minister for European affairs in both the Renzi and Gentiloni cabinets, will serve as EU adviser to French Prime minister Edouard Philippe, triggering fierce reactions by the far-right and anti-establishment parties.

Gozi is still a member of the centre-left Democratic Party’s National Board, the internal body that sets party policy.

In a letter to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, the far-right party Fratelli d’Italia, a member of the European conservatives group (ECR) at the European Parliament, called for Gozi’s citizenship to be withdrawn for working with a foreign government.

The leader of the ruling Five Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio, said the government should consider revoking Gozi’s citizenship, describing his appointment as “something disturbing.”

“You serve the Italian state and, at a certain point, you betray it by joining the ranks of another government,” Di Maio said on the sidelines of an event in Italy on 31 July.

The other deputy Prime Minister, Lega’s leader Matteo Salvini, raised a question mark over Gozi’s past, hinting on his social media he was serving French interests even before this designation.

As a minister, Gozi managed to halve the infringement procedures against Italy opened by the Commission, taking them from 119 to a low-record of 59 in 4 years.

Criticism over his appointment also came from his party, as a newly-elected MEP of Democratic Party, Carlo Calenda, saying on Twitter that there is simply no way to join a foreign cabinet and hold the very same office as when he was a member of Italy’s government

In a radio interview, Gozi admitted to having been surprised by the huge stir generated.

“I am an adviser to the Prime Minister, not a minister of the French government,” he points out, “what happened with me, already happened with many others.”

Gozi was one of the two non-French candidates in the ‘Renaissance’ list of Macron’s La République En Marche (LREM). He said joined the race for a parliamentary seat in France to raise awareness over the issue of transnational lists.

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Gozi will become an MEP when the UK formally leaves the EU.

In an op-ed on the party’s website Democratica, Gozi explained the reason behind his choice to serve the new French government.

“I strongly believe that this kind of initiative is the only way to really create transnational movements, without which there will never be a true European democracy,” he wrote, adding that a change in the mindset is needed to let them understand they are citizens of the same big democratic community.

Last November, Gozi was elected president of the Union of European Federalists, succeeding former German MEP Elmar Brok.

(Edited by Benjamin Fox)

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