Matteo Salvini seeks closer Washington ties as EU tensions rise

Matteo Salvini is striving for Italy to become “the main partner” of the US as he meets officials from Donald Trump’s government in Washington DC on Monday.

The Italian deputy prime minister, who began nurturing relations with Trump during his presidential election campaign, said that while other countries have “chosen different paths”, Italy wanted to return to being the “most important partner in continental Europe for the biggest western democracy”.

“And not only for economic and commercial interests,” he told reporters after arriving in Washington. “But also due to our common vision of the world, of values, of work, family and rights.”

Salvini will meet the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the tomb of the unknown soldier at Arlington national cemetery on Monday before meeting the vice-president, Mike Pence, at the White House.

Salvini, whose far-right League party is proposing a flat tax, will also meet Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform.

When asked about the common ground shared with Trump’s administration, Salvini said: “It would be too easy to say controlled immigration and the fight against Islamic terrorism. Therefore I would say the themes of fiscal reform, taxes, defence and the protection of the national economy. The economic results [in the US] are proving Trump right.”

The trip comes amid heightened tensions between Italy and the EU over the country’s huge public debt as well as discord between the League and its government coalition partner, the Five Star Movement (M5S). The League became Italy’s biggest party when it captured 34% of the vote in the European elections in May, with much speculation that national elections are on the horizon.

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Salvini has long admired Trump, posing for a selfie with him during the 2016 presidential campaign and displaying a “Make America Great Again” cap in the background while filming a thank-you message to supporters after victory in the EU elections.

“It’s obvious that Salvini is preparing to become prime minister and so, like all premiers who go to the US, he is seeking to get support,” said Alfonso Giordano, a politics professor at Rome’s Luiss University.

Such support would be more forthcoming if the League splits with the M5S, which angered the US after spearheading Italy’s signing of a memorandum of understanding with China to join the controversial Belt and Road project, and for refusing to recognise Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as president.

This month the EU paved the way towards fining Italy£3.1bn for failing to reduce its debt.

“The infraction procedure could be a way to push Italy into a corner,” added Giordano. “And so the trip to the US is also a way to let it be known that Italy is not completely isolated.”



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