ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini accused European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Friday of destroying Europe, upping the rhetoric in his increasingly acrimonious war of words with European Union officials.
Salvini, who heads the far-right League party and is tapping into an increasingly eurosceptic mood in Italy after years of anemic economic growth and high unemployment, took aim at Juncker and EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici.
“People like Juncker and Moscovici have ruined Europe and our country,” Salvini told reporters in Rome.
Salvini, who regularly denounces EU officials in Brussels as unelected bureaucrats whom he blames for Italy’s fiscal plight, has turned up the volume since forming a government with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement in June.
Replying hours later during a visit to Vienna, Juncker told the Austrian news agency APA: “I hope he will never have to remove the heap of ruins.”
His apparent irony provoked an immediate response from Salvini. “The insults and threats that arrive every day from Brussels and European bureaucrats are incredible and unacceptable,” he said.
“The only ruins that I will have to scoop up are those of the beautiful European dream, destroyed by people like Juncker,” he said, adding that he hoped European parliamentary elections set for next May would usher in a new political age.
A founding member of the EU, Italy was once one of its most fervent advocates.
Salvini is allied with far-right groups in other European countries and is working with U.S. President Donald Trump’s former political strategist Steve Bannon to build a network of parties opposed to closer European integration.
“I will be happy to rebuild a new Europe with the popular vote of May, I work only for the good and the future of the Italian people,” Salvini said.
The Italian government this week unveiled the core of its 2019 budget, trippling the previous deficit goal for next year in direct defiance of EU fiscal rules.
Moscovici has warned that the package might not respect EU regulations. A Commission spokeswoman said on Friday Brussels would only react to the budget plan when it is formally delivered by an Oct. 15 deadline.
Reporting by Angelo Amante; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Richard Balmforth