Italy’s populist right-wing interior minister Matteo Salvini has evoked fury from European lawmakers after making a reference to African “slaves” while addressing a migration conference in Vienna on Friday.
One European minister went so far as to heckle Salvini as he spoke, and unable to contain his anger interrupted the speech and unleashed in a vulgar outburst.
Salvini was presenting the rationale for his staunch opposition to accepting more migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean from Africa — a deeply unpopular opinion among EU leadership, however something that’s launched him to popularity in his own Italy — and explained that Italians and other Europeans need to be encouraged to have more babies, as opposed to caving to EU pressure to open their borders to a continued influx of migrants.
In response to one somewhat bizarre argument espoused by a handful of European leaders — that greater migrant acceptance could be the solution to Europe’s ageing populations and low birth rates — Salvini, who is head of the anti-immigration League Party (or Lega) explained the answer is simply to encourage strong families and higher birth rates.
“I’ve heard colleagues say that we need immigration because the population of Europe is getting older, but I have a completely different viewpoint,” said Salvini. “I believe that I’m in government in order to see that our young people have the number of children that they used to a few years ago and not to transplant the best of Africa’s youth to Europe.”
Apparently this was too much for Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, who began audibly uttering “blah, blah, blah…” as Salvini tried to talk.
Salvini continued with a comment that was too much for his audience of EU bureaucrat: “Maybe in Luxembourg they need to do this, but in Italy we need to help people have more children, rather than bring in modern-day slaves (from Africa) to replace the children we’re not having,” he said.
He appeared to be referencing the argument common in some circles that migrants can happily fill low-paying service jobs that Europeans don’t want, which right-wing movements have criticized as itself a subtle form of racism and classism.
Salvini then pressed the minister over whether he could freely finish his speech, to which Asselborn replied in French, “In Luxembourg, sir, we have welcomed thousands of Italians who came to work in our country, as migrants, so that you in Italy had money for your children.”
Luxembourg’s minister finished with the words “Merde, alors”. The phrase “Merde alors” literally and commonly means “shit then”, but is actually closer to the English “f*cking hell”.
Watch the heated exchange here…
Ironically the whole exchange came as the UN high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, divulged to reporters that he previously urged Salvini to tone down his “aggressive” language on the migrant issues previously in the week.
But clearly Salvini didn’t take the advice to heart then or now, as he subsequently shared a video clip of the exchange with his 3 million followers on Facebook with the words, “Look at the reaction (of the minister). He didn’t take it very well.”
Salvini, whose populist government came into power last June and sparked tensions with the EU over its immigration crackdown, proudly published a video of the interaction on his Facebook page, and commented alongside the post: “The Luxembourg minister declared this morning that we need migrants because Europe is ageing. I told him I instead work towards young Italians (and Europeans) returning to bringing children into the world, because we don’t want new slaves.”
And previously on Thursday both Salvini and Luigi Di Maio, his partner in the government, rebuked the the EU’s economics affairs commissioner, Pierre Moscovici of France, for likening populist leaders in Europe to “little Mussolinis”.
Salvini, who political observers say may have singlehandedly doubled his party’s popularity, told the French politician “wash his mouth out” for insulting Italy.
At the rate things are going, and as EU leaders continue their patronizing lecturing on the evils of nationalist movements, we expect Savini’s surging popularity to continue even outside of Italy’s borders.