Tags: Italy | Di Maio

AP Interview: Italy Wants to Shift but Stay in EU's Orbit

AP Interview: Italy Wants to Shift but Stay in EU's Orbit

Tuesday, 04 February 2020 02:38 PM

ROME (AP) — Italy is not looking to leave the European Union but wants reforms that would shift the Britain-less bloc's “center of gravity” away from bureaucratic institutions in Brussels to elected bodies like the European Parliament, the Italian foreign minister said Tuesday.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio also expressed incredulity at a recent survey showing a significant jump in the percentage of Italians who don't believe the Holocaust happened.

Di Maio, a leader of the populist 5-Star Movement that has had a role in governing Italy since mid-2018, deplored the rise of anti-Semitic incidents in his country and described Holocaust deniers as an “enormous problem."

His Movement became the largest force in the Italian Parliament two years ago but slumped badly in EU parliament elections, regional elections and in opinion polls last year.

Asked about the potential power of populists to pull more member nations out of the EU now that the U.K. has departed, Di Maio defended the 5-Stars' brand of populism. He said, “in some way we have tried to intercept the anger of the people," but he insisted populists haven't “fueled hatred.”

A survey by the Italian think-tank Eurispes last week showed 15.6% of respondents saying they don't believe the Holocaust happened, a steep jump from the 2.7% who held that view in 2004.

Di Maio said: “I struggle to truly imagine” a person who denies the Holocaust but “among his many defects must be total ignorance.”

The minister called for heavy government education spending in schools as “the only antidote to this great problem."

In recent years, some elements of his own movement, including one of its founders, comic Beppe Grillo, have come under scrutiny for taking stances considered anti-Semitic.

Anti-Semitism monitoring groups in Italy have noticed a sharp uptick in incidents. Last month, when ceremonies in Europe, Israel and elsewhere commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp operated by Nazi Germany, Italy saw a rash of incidents .

They included graffiti painted on doors of homes to indicate the people living there were Jewish families or descendants of those who fought Italian fascism after dictator Benito Mussolini's rise to power.

Humanitarian groups last week decried the Italian government extending a deal with Libya that facilitates the return of migrants to detention centers in the northern Africa country where they are at risk for rape, torture and other maltreatment.

In the AP interview, Di Maio revealed that Italy has asked Libya to modify the deal to give humanitarian groups responsibility for migrants who are intercepted by the Libyan coast guard so they won't end back up in the detention centers.

Until the interview, Italy hadn't commented on U.S. President Donald Trump's new Middle East peace plan proposal. Asked for the Italian government's position, Di Maio called the Trump administration's proposal "a diplomatic effort that's highly welcome by Italy.”

However, he insisted that the European Union needed to adopt a common stance on the proposal when its leaders next meet.

Britain embraced the U.S. initiative, while France warned that any Mideast peace deal must respect international law.

© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

   
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Italy is not looking to leave the European Union but wants reforms that would shift the Britain-less bloc's "center of gravity" away from bureaucratic institutions in Brussels to elected bodies like the European Parliament, the Italian foreign minister said Tuesday. In a...
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Tuesday, 04 February 2020 02:38 PM
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