STRASBOURG, FEBRUARY 12th 2019 – A “puppet”: this is how the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has been illustrated by the leader of the ALDE group (one of the biggest EP groups), Guy Verhofstadt, during an assembly. The Belgian MEP spoke Italian during all his speech to express his deep respect for Italy and its history. However, late in his address, Verhofstadt stated that this country – which once was “a founder of our European family” – has now become a “fanalino di coda” for the EU – meaning it counts nothing. He then asked Conte how long he still intends “to remain a puppet in Di Maio and Salvini’s (Italian vice presidents) hands”. As the MEPs’ protests grew louder, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani invited everyone to maintain an appropriate tone – but Conte couldn’t stand the accusations and immediately replied that “those who are paid by lobbies” are the true political “puppets.”
Verhofstadt speech (Euronews – Italian subtitles)
Verhofstadt’s intervention was the sharpest and most clamorous one of several other MEPs who had already accused Italy of being responsible “for the lack of economical growth”. “This is not the Italy we used to know” remarked the German socialist leader Udo Bullmann, referring to the example of Altiero Spinelli and the other Italian politicians who contributed to found the EU. Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini have been criticised too – Verhofstadt mentioned Di Maio’s contacts with the French Gilets jaunes movement and Salvini’s xenophobic propaganda and anti-immigration politics.
After Conte’s reply, the Italian MEP Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, supported her Prime Minister by joining the protests against Verhofstadt: she can be seen standing up in the video linked above.
ITALIAN PROPAGANDA – Actually, Verhofstadt isn’t totally wrong, since Di Maio and (mostly) Salvini’s influence on Italians is even stronger than Conte’s, though Conte has higher authority as a Prime Minister. The two vice presidents are leaders of the two major parties in Italy, Movimento 5 Stelle and Lega: both of them are populist parties that see the current EU establishment as an enemy for Italian economics and sovereignty. According to Salvini, anyone who supports EU institutions is an enemy of Italian people and an ally for the “elites” and the “lobbies” – with these probably referring to the whole European political class and institutions.
Salvini also attacked the Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in 2014, describing him as a “burattino” (puppet) of Angela Merkel. His propaganda is simple and direct: if you disagree with his concerns and/or the current government, you are a European bureaucrat and support the elite – and he obviously claims the very same statement for anyone who agrees with Verhofstadt. During his political career, Salvini always referred to European institutions and leaders (and mostly French and German ones at that) as dictators threatening Italy’s sovereignty.
Verhofstadt has spoken an uncomfortable truth to Conte and to Italy. It is irresponsible for an Italian and European citizen to distinguish between “friends” and “enemies” of the nation, just as it is to support either the Italian government or the MEPs that made these harsh accusations. It is responsibility of every Italian citizen and politician to deeply consider the content of criticisms and focus on how to make Italian politics and international relationships better. No one will take benefit from a lack of cooperation between EU member nations based on mere political convictions.
This article discusses an assembly of the EP from early 2019; circumstances herein discussed may have changed in the time leading up to its publication.