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Napolitano challenges Euroskeptics' call for unity

National Front leader says anti-EU forces fight for democracy

24 March, 18:45
Napolitano challenges Euroskeptics' call for unity (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Rome, March 24 - Marine Le Pen, leader of France's far-right National Front, called on all Euroskeptics to unite against European Union forces Monday even as Italian President Giorgio Napolitano used a Second World War ceremony to make the opposing case. "I call on all the Euroskeptic forces in Europe to form an alliance in defense of national States, the return of democracy, the sovereignty of peoples and national identities," she said in an interview with ANSA, one day after her party did better than expected in local elections in France.

Her position was buttressed by the head of Italy's right-wing Northern League, who said that he was confident pro-European forces are running scared of the Euroskeptics.

"The dinosaurs and Euro-bureaucrats are afraid! A wind of freedom is blowing from France," said Matteo Salvini, referring to Le Pen's party victory on the weekend.

"(European Parliament elections) will be a nightmare for Merkel, Napolitano, and every fan of the euro. A different Europe is possible," said Salvini in a statement on Facebook. With anti-austerity rancor running high across Europe, parties such as the Northern League and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement founded by comedian Beppe Grillo are expected to do well at European Parliament elections in May. And that triggered concern from Napolitano, who used a 70th anniversary commemorative service for victims of a Second World War massacre in Rome to remind voters of what can happen in a divided Europe, and to call for greater unity.

Napolitano said that achieving peace across Europe cannot be taken for granted, and that the unity that has come with post-war peace and strong relations across the continent is now under threat.

Speaking at the Fosse Ardeatine, a network of caves on the southern edge of Rome where 335 men and boys were massacred in March 1944, Napolitano said that "we need to remind everyone what we experienced in Italy and in Europe," when countries were at war.

Now, said the president, "various parties are trying to discredit and attack institutions such as the European Union, which contribute to peace and unity". Those forces should be countered, said Napolitano. "We must remember...that we cannot play with these opponents who tend to discredit our heritage of the struggle for freedom," he added.

The massacre at Fosse Ardeatine was carried out by Nazi officers in a reprisal for a partisan attack that killed 33 German soldiers in central Rome on a street near the Trevi Fountain. In retaliation, for every one German killed, the army seized 10 Italians including civilians as well as numerous political prisoners and Jews who were in custody, plus five more who were also executed.

Later in the day, Italian Premier Matteo Renzi repeated similar concerns about the rise of anti-European forces during a visit to The Hague.

He called on European institutions to "respond to a widespread sense of protest and anti-politics," following Le Pen's victories and said that in order to fight such forces the EU must "put economic growth and the fight on unemployment" at center stage.

Meanwhile, in her interview with ANSA Le Pen admitted that Euroskeptics are not completely united.

She said that Grillo does not like her, even though their political parties share many goals including opposition to the single currency, the euro.

But, she added, a key difference is that unlike the National Front, Grillo spends his energy criticizing without "assuming responsibility" for proposing a better political course.

"Frankly I do not understand the hate Grillo has for me," she said.