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EU’s center-right under pressure to expel Berlusconi over support for Italy’s Meloni

The Europe Parliament’s main conservative group is facing demands to give Silvio Berlusconi and his party the boot if he supports the far-right Giorgia Meloni leading Italy.

The Forza Italia party, led by the former Italian prime minister turned MEP, is backing Meloni to lead a new coalition government in Rome, following elections held last month.

But a group of German MEPs has written to Manfred Weber, whose center-right European People’s Party (EPP) holds the most seats in the European Parliament, calling for Forza Italia to be ejected from the EPP unless Berlusconi drops his support for Meloni.

“It is not too late to prevent a far-right government of Giorgia Meloni in Italy,” reads the letter, which was obtained by POLITICO’s Brussels Playbook and later published online.  

The letter tells Weber that democrats across party blocs have a responsibility to prevent the far right from entering a government in Europe after the success of Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party in the election. Establishing a firewall against the far-right has been the convention used in post-war Europe, and especially in Germany, by parties who say they’re trying to protect democracy from those they argue could destroy it.

“Those who ally themselves with the extreme right do not tame them,” according to the three German MEPs — Daniel Freund from the Greens, Katarina Barley from the Socialists & Democrats and Moritz Körner from the liberal Renew Europe. “Those who make pacts with the extreme right help them gain power.”

Fundamental EU values on which the Continent’s peace and democracy rely should not be sacrificed simply to gain power, the letter tells Weber.

“We therefore ask you, as president of the European People’s Party, to communicate to your members in Italy that there must be no EPP participation in a far-right government in Italy,” the letter says. “Should Forza Italia nevertheless agree to form a government and co-elect Giorgia Meloni as prime minister, it must have no future in the pro-European party family of the European People’s Party.”

Secretary General of the European People’s Party Thanasis Bakolas called the letter to Weber “a direct and absolute insult to the democratic will of the Italian people expressed in the recent elections. How would Mr Freund’s, Ms Barley’s and Mr Körner’s constituents respond if an elected MEP from another country questioned their democratic choice?”

Bakolas added: “The coalition that won Italy’s election by a landslide will be judged by the Italian people.” Bakolas said the EPP was “absolutely committed” to Meloni’s party “and all it is doing to ensure that Italy’s next government serves the best interests of its people, defends our EU values, stands firm in support of Ukraine and upholds the rule of law.”

In August, Weber visited Rome to express his support for Berlusconi’s party and Meloni’s coalition ahead of the election.

MEP Iratxe García Pérez, chair of the Socialists and Democrats group, also argued that the alliance between Forza Italia and the Brothers of Italy set a worrying precedent and could put “the European project in danger.”

“Be careful who you make friends with,” said García Perez, referring to Meloni and the Brothers of Italy as “neo-fascist.” 

Raffaele Fitto, an Italian MEP from the Brothers of Italy, said: “We suggest to our colleague García Perez to seriously question herself on the real and deep reasons behind the clear electoral defeat of the left in Italy.”

It’s not the first time the EPP has faced calls to kick out a member in recent years: The group had long faced pressure to disconnect from Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party over rule of law concerns and attacks on EU figures before it ultimately left the EPP in Parliament last year.

Carlo Martuscelli contributed reporting.

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