ROME, Italy – Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has criticized allegations made by a European Union (EU) chief lawmaker that he is a “puppet” of the leaders of his country’s coalition party, after stating that the bloc “lost contact” with his people.
The EU Parliament witnessed a muttering between Conte, who was making his opening speech, and parliamentary leaders. Guy Verhofstadt addressed the prime minister, saying he regrets that Italy has ceased to be a major supporter of Europe “to the end of the line.”
Abusing what he sees as the “political degeneration of Italy,” Verhofstadt accused Conte of being a “puppet” of Luigi Di Maio, of the Five-Star Movement, and Matteo Salvini of the Northern League. He also said that Italy sometimes “behaves anti-European, openly vindictive against other member states.”
The Belgian MEP later suggested on Twitter that Italy is being unduly influenced by Russian President Vladimir Putin, causing division in the EU on the issue of the legitimacy of Nicolás Maduro as president of Venezuela.
“I love Italy, it’s the place where our European civilization was born. It’s very painful for me to see such political degeneration,” wrote Verhofstadt.
I love Italy, it's the place where our European civilization was born. It's very painful for me to see such political degeneration. Watch my full speech 👇 pic.twitter.com/vB3gRqZ4iz
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) February 13, 2019
The Belgian was responding to Conte’s statement that the EU was hesitant about the issue of migration, insisting that Europe could not continue with an “emergency” strategy for the highly polarizing issue – adding that the bloc has lost its connection with people it is suppose to represent.
Conte rejected the characterization of Verhofstadt, claiming that deputies need to be careful with the language they use, and maintaining that he was not in debt to powerful special interest groups.
“I’m not a marionette, I’m very happy to represent my people. The puppets are those who work for lobbies and other powers, and that’s not the case here,” Conte countered.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini responded on Twitter by calling Conte’s treatment “shameful” and urged voters to “send them home” in the European elections in May.
“That some European bureaucrats, accomplices of the disaster of these years, allow themselves to insult the President of the Council, Government and Italian people is really shameful. Prepare the boxes, on May 26th the citizens will send you home,” Salvini said.
Che alcuni burocrati europei, complici del disastro di questi anni, si permettano di insultare presidente del consiglio, governo e Popolo italiano è davvero VERGOGNOSO.
Preparate gli scatoloni, il 26 maggio i cittadini vi manderanno a casa.
— Matteo Salvini (@matteosalvinimi) February 12, 2019
The exchange came after a diplomatic dispute between France and Italy. Last week, France withdrew its ambassador from Rome after a meeting between Italy’s deputy prime minister and the leaders of the Yellow Vests demonstrators movement, calling for the resignation of French President Emmanuel Macron.
Salvini said on Monday he was ready to meet with his French counterpart “this week” for talks after the fight between the two EU member states.