Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, left, and his Polish counterpart Joachim Brudzinski, right, address the media following their talks in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. Salvini's visit is seen as sounding out a possible alliance with Poland's ruling EU-skeptic party ahead of spring elections for the European Parliament. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Italy's Salvini seeks to build new European order with Poles

January 09, 2019 - 8:25 am

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini vowed Wednesday to work with Poland to create a "new European spring" as he sought to build an alliance with Poland's ruling populists ahead of the European Parliament elections in May.

Salvini, speaking Wednesday at a news conference in Warsaw alongside his Polish counterpart Joachim Brudzinski, said he's working to make the European Union less bureaucratic and more focused on securing its borders against migrants.

He arrived at the ministry in Warsaw wearing a jacket with the word "Polizia" (police) on the back.

In comments to reporters, Salvini slammed a European Union-brokered deal to distribute 49 rescued migrants among several EU countries. He said the deal would only encourage human traffickers to launch more unseaworthy boats across the Mediterranean, reiterating his longstanding opposition to accepting any more new arrivals.

The European Parliament elections, being held from May 23-26, are shaping up into a battle between liberal pro-EU forces, among them French President Emmanuel Macron, and populist euroskeptics represented by Salvini and far-right leaders including France's Marine Le Pen.

"The Europe that will be born in June will have a different pace compared to the one of today, which is guided by bureaucrats," Salvini said.

"In Europe, one has always spoken about a French-German axis," Salvini said. "We are preparing for a new equilibrium and a new energy in Europe. And Poland and Italy will be the protagonists of this new European spring, of this rebirth of true European values."

He said some people in Brussels deny Europe's "Judeo-Christian origins," and that the renaissance that he envisions will reverse this.

Brudzinski, meanwhile, said he rejected accusations that the Polish and Italian governments seek to leave the EU, saying their aim is "to have influence on what our common, European home is going to look like."

Salvini's meeting later with Polish ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski is being watched as an early sign of whether the Italian firebrand can effectively mount a nationalist challenge at the European level.

Salvini's League, one of two parties in Italy's ruling coalition, and Kaczynski's governing Law and Justice party in Poland are both staunchly anti-migrant and criticize how the EU functions today.

However, Polish skepticism about Salvini's friendly approach to Russian President Vladimir Putin could be an impediment to collaboration.

Both populist governments have been embroiled in conflicts with Brussels that have seen them strive for greater national sovereignty. Poland's clash has involved changes to its judicial system which some see as anti-democratic, while Italy's battles with the EU have centered on its budget spending.

Before Salvini's visit to Warsaw, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymanski called Italy's government the "forerunner of change" in Europe.

But the ruling party is facing sharp rebukes by its domestic critics for its apparent openness to Salvini.

Poland's main opposition leader, Grzegorz Schetyna, called the meeting between Salvini and Kaczynski "absurd and shocking." He referred to Salvini's League as a "nationalist, radical and pro-Russian party."

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