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President denounces 'aggressive nationalism' in Europe

Northern League protest Napolitano during Strasbourg speech

04 February, 14:55
President denounces 'aggressive nationalism' in Europe (see related) (ANSA) - Strasbourg, February 4 - Upcoming elections for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) scheduled for May "should be seen as a moment of truth," where voters must reject any appeal to "return to aggressive nationalism...(and) persistent national selfishness and pettiness," President Giorgio Napolitano said in a speech Tuesday to the European Parliament.

Populist euroskeptic parties are expected to do well in the election, in part due to voters' exhaustion with recession, cuts to their standards of living, and rising taxes.

Napolitano also warned against continued government austerity that he said has been difficult on people and which some experts say has intensified the effects of the recession.

He said that among "too many European leaders, there is insufficient awareness of the decline that threatens Europe," and called for greater efforts to shake off the effects of recession.

A "vicious circle" has been created by the efforts made by many countries, including Italy, to deal with the debt crises by cutting spending and deficits.

"We need a stronger political cohesion of the European Union, and a more determined European leadership," to help pull the deeply interconnected region back into prosperity, he said.

As Napolitano spoke, members of Italy's regionalist Northern League protested with posters and banners denouncing the single currency.

The protests, including League Members of the European Parliament (MEP) and party secretary Matteo Salvini, complained that the euro has "killed" jobs and wages.

Mara Biozzotto, an MEP, wore a T-shirt bearing the message "Napolitano is not my president" and others called the president "shameless" for promoting European unity.

Their protest was denounced by Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, who suggested its goal was to raise the League's political profile.

"I have no sympathy for those who violently and vulgarly criticize for the sole purpose of increasing their visibility and to throw the country into chaos," Schulz said in Italian.

Back in Italy Napolitano has been facing relentless pressure from Beppe Grillo, the leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), and his followers who have accused the president of being part of a "coup d'état" in Italy and destroying the country.

The M5S has staged a series of high-voltage protests in parliament over measures they are opposed to over the last week, including a new election law, and has demanded that Napolitano be impeached.