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Italy's Salvini hopes to spark populist 'European spring' with Poland

Janek Skarzynski / AFP | Polish Interior Minister Joachim Brudzinski (R) and Italian deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini attend a press conference in Warsaw on January 9, 2019.

Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Wednesday said populists from Italy and Poland should spark a "European spring" to replace the centre-right influence of Germany and France, ahead of key EU elections.

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Salvini was speaking in Warsaw following talks with Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the powerful leader of the governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, on May's European parliamentary elections.

The vote could see nationalist and far-right parties across Europe upset the bloc's balance of power, which is currently dominated by the centre-right.

"We are preparing a new equilibrium and new energy in Europe and Poland and Italy, absolutely, will lead this new European spring," said Salvini.

"We have a new plan for Europe" intended to replace the dominant "French-German axis", he added.

Salvini's anti-immigration League party has ruled in coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement since a general election last March.

"I'm not sure whether we share a common destiny, but we are working on it," said Salvini. "The Franco-German axis may be replaced by an Italian-Polish axis."

His talks with Kaczynski had been "long, positive and concrete", he added.

"I'd like to create a pact, an alliance for everyone who wants to save Europe, the more of us, the better," Salvini said, adding that his party would draw up a 10-point plan to present to other EU countries.

"I don't have a crystal ball, but the goal is to become the second largest movement, maybe the first...in the next European Parliament elections," he added.

PiS spokeswoman Beata Mazurek said on Twitter that talks between Salvini and Kaczynski, "opened the way for further contacts on speeding up the development of EU countries and providing the EU with an appropriate and strong position on a global scale".

Rome has had a series of disputes with Brussels, notably over its tough immigration policy and efforts to implement a big-spending budget to implement the ruling coalition's populist measures.

Last month Italy passed a revised 2019 budget, watering down key measures to avoid being punished by the European Commission and financial markets.

'Discrimination'?

Salvini said he had also held talks with PiS Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

Earlier Wednesday, Morawiecki said his government shared many of Salvini's criticisms of the EU, and he accused Brussels of discriminating against some countries.

"Different member states are treated quite differently in very similar situations, so this probably a definition of discrimination, isn't it?" Morawiecki told US broadcaster CNBC.

"One country has a budget deficit of 2.4 percent (Italy) and another country has a deficit exceeding 3 percent (France)... and they are treated differently because of some other aspects," he said, referring to the budget dispute between Brussels and Rome.

"There should not be this different treatment by Brussels," Morawiecki said. "So with Mr Salvini we are on the same page with regards to many European matters."

Morawiecki, who faces a general election late this autumn, recently appointed young far-right politician Adam Andruszkiewicz to a junior ministerial post, in what critics say amounts to a bid to court groups with anti-migrant and ultra-nationalist views.

Since taking office in 2015, the PiS government has put Poland on a collision course with the EU over a string of controversial judicial reforms.

Warsaw recently backed down from its reform aimed at retiring Supreme Court judges, under pressure from Brussels. The EU's top court ruled it posed it threatened to undermine the independence of the courts.

(AFP)

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