World / Politics

Populist Matteo Salvini could take Italy out of EU, ex-prime minister warns

AFP-JIJI

Matteo Salvini, who has plunged Italy into turmoil by pulling out of a coalition government, could eventually take the country out of the EU, a former prime minister warned Sunday.

Interior Minister Salvini, who announced last week that he was pulling his League party out of an increasingly acrimonious coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), “has no principles,” Enrico Letta told AFP.

“One day, he can say he wants Europe, the next that he wants to leave. With Salvini, an Italian ‘Brexit’ is not impossible,” said Letta, who was Italy’s prime minister between April 2013 and February 2014.

Both the League and M5S campaigned in the 2018 elections on anti-EU platform, but have since stepped back from demands to exit the eurozone single currency bloc.

Under Salvini’s hard-line stance as interior minister, the populist government clashed with most of its EU partners when it closed Italian ports to refugees.

Rome has also sparred with Brussels over budget numbers and targets.

But on Saturday, Salvini said that pulling the country out of either the euro or the European Union “has never been in the works.”

“The political chaos in Italy is complete and it’s linked to the failure of this government majority,” said Letta — the former head of the center-left Democratic Party — in an impromptu interview at Lamezia Terme airport in southern Italy.

Salvini ended the 14-month-old ruling alliance on Thursday, saying afterward he had had enough of working with the M5S led by Luigi di Maio and what he said was its refusal to work together on key issues.

Letta called Salvini a “big opportunist” whose path was “not only sovereignist and racist,” but whose “anti-migrant, anti-integration” ideas were becoming more widely accepted.

He predicted that new elections were “fairly likely” and that under Italy’s voting system, Salvini — who is currently polling at 36-38 percent — could secure an absolute majority.

“This would be a grave danger for the country,” Letta said, while also suggesting that a second government under Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte might be formed, at least until Italy’s EU commissioner was named and Rome’s budget for 2020 was adopted.

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