Italy’s Giuseppe Conte: We Are ‘Proud to Call Ourselves Populists’

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte says the government will keep its high-spending budget but ensure the deficit target worrying Brussels will not be breached
AFP/EMMANUEL DUNAND

“If populism means giving sovereignty back to the people, we are proud to call ourselves populists,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in an address to the Italian Parliament Tuesday.

The prime minister’s words came in preparation for a meeting of the Council of the European Union (E.U.) and the Euro Summit, which will take place in Brussels later this week to discuss the E.U. budget and the migration question, among other things.

“If populism means reducing the gap between the people and the elite, giving sovereignty — the fullness of sovereignty — back to the people, and making the job of representation really adhere to the protection of the interests represented, we embrace the title of populists,” he told the Italian legislature.

Mr. Conte’s words seemed to echo those of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who delivered a similar message in a speech in Brussels just last week.

“Is the EU ensuring that the interests of countries and their citizens are placed before those of bureaucrats here in Brussels?” Mr. Pompeo asked. “Our mission,” he said of the Trump administration, “is to assert our sovereignty before the international order.”

Getting down to specifics of the upcoming E.U. meeting, on Tuesday, Conte said he would not be going up to Brussels with a “wish book,” but with “the full spectrum of the government reform project.”

“We are in the middle of a close confrontation,” Mr. Conte said, but we remain “confident of a good outcome” of our negotiations with the E.U. because at stake there is much more than the final financial balances but “the very idea of political representation, the sense of our role and our mission.”

In his address, Mr. Conte touched on the immigration issue along with financial matters.

“I ask our European partners for a truly European migration management,” Conte added, meaning that “the burden of landings cannot weigh only on the countries of arrival.”

This was not the first time the prime minister defended the title of “populist” attached to the ruling coalition government between the Five Star Movement and the Lega Party.

Last June, Mr. Conte responded to the accusation of populism leveled against the government as if it were a mark of shame by lifting up populism as a badge of honor, signifying closeness to the people.

“To those who accuse us of being populists,” Conte said then, “we respond that if this means listening to the people, then yes, we are!”

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