Conte hits back after being called puppet in European Parliament

Unable to build 'people' yet says Italy PM, Dublin reform No

(ANSA) - Strasbourg, February 12 - The European Parliament gave a 'fail' mark to Premier Giuseppe Conte's maiden speech to the Strasbourg assembly on Tuesday with one caucus leader calling him a "puppet" of his deputy premiers, Luigi Di Maio and Matteo salvini.
    "I wonder how much longer you will be the puppet moved by Salvini and Di Maio," Liberals leader Guy Verhofstadt asked Conte in the EP plenary assembly.
    Verhofstadt also said Di Maio had "abused" his office by meeting with French Yellow Vests protesters last week.
    Verhofstadt told Conte: "I'll speak in Italian, I'm in love with Italy, for me it is a country, it is an entire civilisation, Italy is where our European civilisation was born...
    "That is why it hurts me to see Italy's political degeneration, which did not start yesterday, or a year ago, but 20 years ago. "This beautiful country has become, from a convinced defender of Europe, a laggard in the Union".
    European Socialists and Democrats caucus leader Udo Bullmann said "I am very saddened by the senseless escalation between Italy and France. In contexts like this no one comes out a winner, it is a classic lose-lose situation" after France recalled its ambassador due to "unprecedented" attacks and DI Maio's meeting with the Yellow Vests.
    Bullmann said on his recent visit to Catania on the Sea Watch migrant standoff, and on Conte's speech to the EP, that "this is not the Italy that we know, the Italy we know is that of (European founding father Altiero) Spinelli".
    He said "your government must stop showing us this inhuman face (on migrants)".
    European People's Party (EPP) leader Manfred Weber commented on Conte's speech by saying "on Venezuela Guaidò has asked Italy to recognise him, I think you should answer Guaidò if you think there should be a common European approach".
    The barbs brought a sharp response from League leader Salvini.
    "That some European bureaucrats, accomplices to the disaster of these years, dare to insult the Italian premier, government and people is really disgraceful", he said.
    "The European elites (are) against the choices of citizens.
    Get your boxes ready, on May 26 (in the European elections) the citizens will finally send these people home".
    Premier Conte told the parliament that Europe had not yet been able to build a European people and that European politics lost touch with people after the economic crisis of 2007-8.
    He added that the Dublin migrant rule reform was unsustainable and that a single EU seat at the United Nations Security Council was needed.
    Conte told the Strasbourg parliament that the construction of a 'European people' has seen "significant moments of advancement" but "we still haven't succeeded in really becoming a 'people', we haven't had the courage to build an inclusive model that, realistically, beyond all rhetoric, could favour the creation of a European demos." "European politics, faced with an unprecedented economic crisis, withdrew in fear inside the cold grammar of procedures, ending up by progressively losing contact with its people and making ever more unbridgeable the distance, which is not only geographical, between Brussels and the continent's many peripheries," the Italian premier said. "Politics gave up its legitimating and representative function, appearing - in the eyes of citizens - distant and 'oligarchic'." Conte added that "no European Member State can play a significant role on its own. "Hence the hope that a united European voice may find space also at the UN Security Council.
    "It is a battle, this one, on which the European Union must move in a coordinated way, it must speak with a single voice. "The European Union must be able to speak to the world. A strong, ambitious and coherent Europe is above all necessary to improve its capacity of talking to the United States".
    Conte said that "faced with the massacre of human lives we must all together wage a fight on traffickers without quarter. let us stop remaining divided, giving in to nationalist or regionalist logic, and let us try to put into practice an authentic solidarity. "The proposal to reform the Dublin Regulation, approved in November 2017, is not sustainable in the present EU. There prevails, unfortunately, the unwillingness of the majority of States to participate in compulsory (quotas)." Conte added that "the inadequate and insufficient solidarity inside the EU also explains why Europe is struggling and is late on being fairer and more social. "The new European legislature must pursue with greater decision and as an urgent priority the fight against unemployment and support for growth...The EU's economic governance must take account of the need to balance growth and stability". European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen reacted to Conte's speech by saying "Europe proceeds and gives its best when Italy and the Italian people are at the centre, this must represent a guide for us. "In order to build a future of European success we need a strong Italy at its centre, we must build together our future in unity and solidarity working always with each other and not against each other, speaking together". European Parliament President Antonio Tajani responded to Conte's saying the Dublin Regulation reform is unsustainable by saying "we ask you for a further commitment in the next meetings of the Council so that the proposals of the EU parliament are accepted, perhaps by finding some compromise on the Dublin reform." He stressed the importance of involving member States "in the choices in favour of strengthening the Parliament's powers". In his reply, on migrants, Conte said "Italy has decided to apply a line of greater rigour, we say so with our heads held high and we affirm it with force, because we have concluded that we must not banalise and this is the only effective road to combat human trafficking".
    Conte said that "a safe port means only that the disembarkation is in Italy, this is not OK. All must take part in this mechanism of solidarity. Even countries that say they are willing to take part (in this mechanism) are only doing so with those who are entitled to humanitarian protection. Economic migrants remain where they disembark".
    Cone also said Italy is not isolated on Venezuela.
    Italy, he said, "is not isolated, it contributed to the communique of the High Commissioner and the entire EU on January 26 and it was recognised that my intervention was decisive".
    He said "many people want to anticipate history (but) prudence would be necessary. We don't know what the evolution of the crisis will be, Italy has clear ideas and is not alone".
    Conte said Rome had not recognised last year's presidential elections and had called for new elections.
    "Having said that we do not think we can crown anyone who does not pass through free elections".
    Conte said earlier Tuesday his meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker "went very well and President Juncker will come to Rome on April 1".
    The meeting lasted about half an hour.
    "We did not talk about France, but we spoke about various issues," said Conte.
    Asked why a fresh meeting was needed in Rome, Conte replied: "He loves Italy".
    European Commission Spokesperson Margaritis Schinas told journalists the talks had been "constructive" and "wide-ranging".


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