Italians lash out at VDL as Brussels interferes in election vote

Ursula von der Leyen issues warning to Italy over right-wing victory

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A trio of centre-left and centrist groups held their closing meetings in different squares across the Italian capital, underscoring their failure to forge a united electoral pact – a decision that has enormously benefitted the conservative bloc. Opinion polls have all predicted that Giorgia Meloni’s nationalist Brothers of Italy group will emerge as the leading party on Sunday and share power with its allies the League, headed by Matteo Salvini, and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

Brothers of Italy traces its roots back to a post fascist movement created at the end of World War Two, and although Ms Meloni has sought to project a moderate image, both she and Mr Salvini have been fiercely critical of the European Union, accusing Brussels of interfering too much in national politics.

Ratcheting up tensions at the end of a largely lacklustre campaign, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned late Thursday that Europe had “the tools” to deal with Italy if things go in a “difficult direction”.

League MEPs in Strasbourg flocked to condemn the Commission President’s comments.

ID Group presidents Marco Zanni and Marco Campomenosi said: “Italy is a free, sovereign country with a strong democratic tradition. Italian citizens deserve respect and Brussels should just get it.

“The words spoken yesterday by Ursula Von der Leyen are shameful, we do not accept warnings, lessons or veiled threats, however, three days before the vote, yet another interference by someone in the EU who is unable to accept that in Italy, sovereignty belongs to the people.

“We will present a question to ask for clarity on the matter. Whether it is intentional or a slip, it is in any case serious and unacceptable. The president of the EU Commission must apologise and respect the vote of the Italians.”

As other leaders appeared in various squares in Rome and beyond to address their supporters, Mr Salvini staged a brief protest in front of the Commission headquarters in Rome to denounce Ms von der Leyen. “This is shameful arrogance,” he said.

A stone’s throw away, the one person who could yet spoil the right’s ride to power, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, held the final rally of his 5-Star Movement.

In Naples, where Mr Conte is believed to be the favourite, residents also denounced the EU Commission chief when interviewed by Express.co.uk.

Mario, 61, carpenter, was not happy to hear Ms von der Leyen’s comments.

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He said: “What a fall from Grace. That’s true incoherence on her part.”

Antonio Scassa, a 67 years old pensioner, echoed: “Such a comment is absolutely inappropriate.

“A statement by an important figure in Brussels on the Italian politics ahead of an election is not okay.”

Clementina, 39, shop assistant, was furious.

She told Express.co.uk: “I think that’s highly unprofessional and very dangerous to a democratic system, especially if she advocates for electoral justice.

“Saying something like that before a general election in a sovereign country should not be allowed.

“If someone like Salvini said the same thing ahead of a European election, she would have been the first one to come out to criticise him.”

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Paolo, bar owner, deferred from commenting on the EU Commission chief’s statement.

Instead, he defended the need for more unity in the bloc and hoped Italy could be on par with standards set up by the Commission.

“I’ve always been pro-EU,” he said. “I just wish we could reach, as a member state, the level Europe requires us to be at. We’re still so far behind.”

Written off two months ago, after he pulled his support for Prime Minister Mario Draghi and sank the unity government, Mr Conte has revived 5-Star fortunes by promoting its flagship “citizens income” welfare for the poor which the right wants to dismantle.

Pollsters say his relentless message has particularly resonated in the poorer south, where hundreds of thousands live off welfare, and could yet prevent a right-wing landslide.

Campaigning is banned on Saturday. Voting runs from 7 am to 11pm local time on Sunday, with exit polls released when balloting ends.

The complex calculations required by a hybrid proportional/first-past-the-post electoral law mean it may be many hours before a precise count of parliamentary seats is available.

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