Italian PM Giuseppe Conte has hit back at claims made by a chief EU lawmaker that he is a “puppet” of his country’s coalition party leaders, after declaring the bloc had “lost contact” with its people.
The EU Parliament witnessed ill-tempered exchanges between Conte, who was making his debut speech, and leading MEPs. Guy Verhofstadt addressed the PM, saying that he regrets Italy has gone from being a big defender of Europe “to the back of the line."
Bemoaning what he sees as the “political degeneration of Italy,” Verhofstadt accused Conte of being a “puppet” of the Five Star Movement’s Luigi Di Maio and the Northern League’s Matteo Salvini. He also claimed that Italy, at times, “behaves in an anti-European way, openly spiteful against other member states.”
The senior Belgian MEP later suggested on social media that Italy is being unduly influenced by Russian President Vladimir Putin, causing EU division on the issue of Nicolas Maduro’s legitimacy as president of Venezuela.
I love Italy, it's the place where our European civilization was born. From being a staunch defender of Europe, it is now the country that under pressure from Putin prevents the EU from being united against Maduro. It's very painful for me to see such political degeneration.
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) February 12, 2019
Verhofstadt was responding to Conte’s assertion that the EU was dithering on the issue of migration, insisting that Europe could not continue with “an emergency footing” strategy on the highly polarizing issue – adding that the bloc had lost its connection to the people it serves.
Conte rejected Verhofstadt’s characterization, contending that MEPs need to be careful about the language they use, and maintaining that he was not beholden to powerful special interest groups.
“I am not a puppet, I am very pleased to represent my people. The puppets are those who work for lobbies and other powers, and that’s not the case here,” Conte said.'
Read more: ‘I am not a puppet’: EU war of words erupts as Italian PM rejects Verhofstadt’s claims