Brussels on alert: Frexit and Italexit demands surge after Salvini betrays anti-EU stance

Matteo Salvini hits out at Italy's 'capitulation' to Rutte in EU deal

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Matteo Salvini, once believed to be a staunch eurosceptic, confirmed on Monday his right-wing party, League, will back the former European Central Bank leader to form a new government in Italy. Speaking to Italian Radio 24, he said: “I leave the labels to others: fascist, communist, Europeanist.

“I am a pragmatic and concrete person.

“With Professor Draghi we didn’t talk about history or geography, but about the fact that, if there is a cut in taxes and bureaucracy in the next few months, I’ll support it.

“We also talked about Europe.

“It is clear that we are, hands, hearts, feet and brains, in Europe and I aspire to a government that defends national interests.

“Professor Draghi asserted himself from this point of view, because I remember his matches with the Germans regarding the defence of the interests of a common economy.

“So, you can stay in Europe, but with your head held high.

“I am not talking about immigration, because it would be taken for granted that the protection of the national interest in this case coincides with the protection of the European interest: the Italian borders are also the European borders.”

The surprising pro-European rhetoric was promptly torn apart by Italexit campaigner Gianluigi Paragone who wrote on his website: “Not even a year ago, Salvini defined the European Union as ‘a den of snakes and jackals’. ‘First we defeat the virus, then we rethink Europe. And, if needed, we say goodbye. Without even thinking,’ Salvini said on March 27 last.

“And again, on 9 April 2020, speaking of the Union, he said in Parliament: ‘I hope that the pro-Europeans have understood that if Europe is hunger, death and sacrifice, it is not the future we must leave to our children’.

“His opinion on Mario Draghi was also different.

“In September 2018, as interior minister, Salvini said of the then head of the ECB: ‘I count that Italians in Europe do the interests of Italy as all other countries do, help and advise and not just criticise’.”

He added: “For those who really believe in the battle against Europe and the euro, all they have to do is follow the only one who is consistent in this.”

Generation Frexit leader Charles-Henri Gallois also blasted the League chief.

He tweeted: “What a clown!

“A renunciation which shows that he is there above all for the seats.

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“Gianluigi Paragone and our allies of Italexit are the only hope for Italy.”

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was quoted as saying on Tuesday that the decision by Italy’s far-right League party to back the government that the former ECB head is trying to forge is “wise” ad will be appreciated in Europe.

In an interview with daily La Repubblica, the business tycoon said Mr Draghi, often credited with saving the euro, had “great capacity to manage difficult situations” and would do well in Italy as well.

Mr Berlusconi added that Draghi’s government would not be a technocratic one, but a government of national unity to tackle the coronavirus emergency.

Italy’s anti-establishment Five-Star Movement said on Monday it would consult members on whether it should back a government led by Mr Draghi, increasing the uncertainty over the make-up of his coalition.

Five-Star, the largest party in parliament, had initially ruled out backing Mr Draghi.

But after meeting him on Saturday its leader Vito Crimi said he was open to considering supporting Mr Draghi on the basis of the policies he proposes.

The vote will begin on Wednesday at 1 pm (1200 GMT) and will end 24 hours later, Five-Star’s official website said.

The former ECB chief is currently holding a second round of talks with political parties to try to muster a majority and put together a cabinet. These are due to end on Tuesday.

It is unclear whether he will wait until the results of the Five-Star vote before reporting back to President Sergio Mattarella.

The Five-Star vote could be close, opinion polls suggest. A survey by the Ipsos agency for daily Corriere della Sera last week showed 55 percent of Five-Star voters wanted the party to back Mr Draghi, against 40 percent who opposed him.

However, the online vote, to be held on Five-Star’s internet platform dubbed Rousseau, will involve only signed up-members, a much smaller number of hard-core followers.

Holding online votes on important issues is standard practice for Five-Star, reflecting its credo of direct democracy, and it followed such procedures to decide whether to participate in the last two governments.

The results normally reflect the recommendation of Five-Star’s top brass, but not always.

In 2019, members rejected a call from the then-party chief Luigi Di Maio to pull Five-Star out of upcoming regional elections.

Moreover, on this occasion, the party is split. One of its most popular figures, Alessandro Di Battista, is particularly hostile to Mr Draghi and said on Monday it would be “absolutely and totally a mistake” for Five-Star to support him.

To secure an outright majority in both houses of parliament, Mr Draghi needs the backing of either the Five-Star or Mr Salvini’s party, the second-largest group in parliament.

The centre-left Democratic Party, Mr Berlusconi’s conservative Forza Italia and Matteo Renzi’s centrist Italia Viva have already guaranteed their backing for the ex-EBC boss.

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