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Salvini, Berlusconi cross swords with Brussels

League head slams EC chief, ex-PM chided for 'pro-Putin' remarks

(ANSA) - ROME, SEP 23 - Matteo Salvini and his centre right coalition partner Silvio Berlusconi on Friday clashed with Brussels after the League leader asked to censure European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for allegedly interfering in Sunday's election and the Forza Italia chief received an eloquent 'co comment' for saying Russian President Vladimir Putin had been forced to invade Ukraine to replace President Volodymyr Zelensky with "decent people".
    Salvini said his rightwing party will file a censure motion against von der Leyen for allegedly vowing to treat Italy like Hungary and Poland if the League and ally Brothers of Italy (FdI) as expected win Sunday's Italian elections and introduce nationalist policies and threaten civil rights - though an EC spokesman said his boss had not meddled in Italian elections and only referred to procedures against the other two countries.
    The EC on several occasions has censured Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban and Poland's ruling Law and Justice party for rule-of-law and rights issues, levying sanctions against them unless they came fully back into line with the EU's democratic values.
    The League and Fdi last week abstained in a European Parliament vote saying that Hungary under Orban was no longer a fully functioning democracy, but an autocracy.
    Orban is a key ally of the two Italian parties while Law and Justice sits in the EP conservative caucus chaired by FdI leader Giorgia Meloni, along with Spain's far right Vox party.
    Meloni, who is poised to become Italy's first woman premier and the most rightwing since the Second World War, has often praised the policies of Orban and her Polish allies.
    Von der Leyen said Thursday that if the general election ushers in an autocratic, nationalist and Euroskeptic shift then "we have the instruments, as in the cases of Poland and Hungary." However, she added that "we are ready to work with any democratic government that is disposed to work with us".
    Salvini branded her statement as squalid and arrogant meddling in Italian domestic politics.
    Announcing the censure motion against von der Leyen Friday, Salvini said "it is a squalid threat, an invasion of the field that was not requested." He said "the lady represents all Europeans, her salary is paid by all of us, and it was a disgusting and arrogant threat.
    "The League's EP group will file a motion of censure".
    Salvini added: "On Sunday Italians are voting, not Brussels bureaucrats, and if I were the president of the EU Commission I would be (more) worried about energy bills".
    He later called on von der Leyen to apologise or resign.
    EC spokesman Eric Mamer on Friday denied Salvini's charge of interfering in the Italian elections saying "I think it is absolutely clear that President von der Leyen did not intervene in the Italian elections and referred to ongoing procedures in other countries".
    In her reply at Princeton University to a query about rights concerns, Mamer said, von der Leyen "explicitly said that the Commission will work with all governments that emerge from elections and want to work with the European Commission".
    He said "the president sought to explain the role of guardian of the Treaties of the Commission and in particular in the field of the rule of law".
    Centre-left Democratic Party (PD) leader Enrico Letta, Meloni's chief opponent, said he was confident that von der Leyen would "clear up" the incident and that she was "not a dangerous Communist".
    Later Friday two League MEPs, Marco Zanni, chair of the ID caucus, and Marco Campomenosi, filed a question for the EC on von der Leyen's statements Thursday, asking her to clear up whether her alleged intervention had undermined the EC's principle of independence.
    Meloni has assured Italy's international partners that under her lead Italy will cleave to EU and NATO positions and will continue to back Ukraine in its defence against the Russian invasion.
    But she has also voiced Euroskeptic views as well as railing against immigrants and alleged gay and woke lobbies, and promising to give women an alternative to abortion.
    The 45-year-old plain-speaking working class Roman unmarried mother has stressed her identity as a Christian mother and is campaigning under the slogan God, family and fatherland.
    She has also endorsed the 'great replacement' theory positing the substitution of white nationals by Muslim immigrants.
    Though her party has post-Fascist roots she has stressed that it shares values and policies with Britain's Tories and US Republicans.
    European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said Friday the EC had no comment on Berlusconi's assertion that Putin was pushed into the Ukraine war by the Russian people and media and expected to replace the Zelensky administration with "decent people".
    The EU's spokesman on foreign affairs, Peter Stano, nodded with an eloquent smile after Mamer's remark.
    Berlusconi, three-time ex-premier and centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party leader, told Italian TV Thursday that Putin was pushed by pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass and the Russian media and people into war with its neighbour.
    The billionaire media magnate and old friend of Putin's, who has condemned the war, told Porta a Porta that the separatists came to Moscow and told the media that Ukraine's attacks had reaped 16,000 deaths and Putin was doing nothing to defend them.
    "Putin was pushed by the Russian population, by his party and by his ministers to invent this special operation", said the 86-year-old mogul turned politician.
    "So the troops were supposed to enter, reach Kiyiv in a week, replace the Zelensky government with decent people and a week later come back.
    "Instead they found an unexpected resistance which was then fed by arms of all kinds from the West.
    PD leader Letta said Friday Berlusconi's comments were "scandalous and extremely serious" and "please Putin", in saying that troops "should be used to install decent people".
    Centrist Azione (Action) and 'third pole' leader Carlo Calenda said "yesterday Berlusconi took us out of all kinds of European and Euro-Atlantic alliance. Yesterday Berlusconi spoke like one of Putin's generals".
    Berlusconi, for his part, said "my words were simplified" and taken out of context, and that the centre right coalition stood firmly "with the EU and with NATO". (ANSA).


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