Italy’s anti-immigrant hard-liner Matteo Salvini spent the weekend fighting with Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, after the Italian firebrand called African migrants “slaves.”
After Asselborn claimed Salvini was using the “tone of the fascists from the '30s,” Salvini shot back Sunday, saying the tiny European state was welcome to take in the rest of Europe’s asylum seekers if Asselborn “likes immigrants so much.”
The playground taunt was the latest shot in an escalating feud between the pair that broke out during a European Union meeting in Vienna Friday, when Salvini referred to African migrants as “new slaves,” prompting Asselborn to swear in exasperation.
Salvini later posted a video online of the exchange, which occurred during a closed-door session at a conference on security and immigration, inflaming tensions further.
The initial spat between Salvini and Asselborn, who has argued that immigration is necessary to replace Europe’s aging population, came as the Italian suggested Luxembourg wanted “new slaves to replace the children we’re not having,” while he instead wanted to help Italians to have more children.
Asselborn, seated nearby, shouted, "That's going too far!” before muttering “Merde alors” – literally, “shit, then,” or roughly “Goddamn it.”
Salvini, known for his pugnacious Twitter game, doubled down on the drama with the video, aiming several jabs at Asselborn and his country that were widely circulated by Salvini’s supporters.
“He compares our grandparents who emigrated to the illegals who arrive today, wants more immigrants in Europe and concludes screaming: ‘Shit’,” tweeted Salvini, before dismissing Luxembourg as “a tax haven that cannot give lessons to Italy.”
Asselborn fired back in a series of interviews over the weekend, denouncing Salvini in comments to German media for using "the methods and tone of the fascists from the '30s." In comments to Politico, Asselborn repeated the criticism, saying Italy and Hungary were using “the language of hate and division” in their anti-migrant politicking.
Salvini responded on Twitter Sunday: “If you like immigrants so much, you can welcome them all in Luxembourg, in Italy we have already welcomed too many.”
Italy, a front-line country on migration routes into Europe, has closed its ports to migrants since Salvini’s Lega party formed a coalition government in June, slashing the number of arrivals in the country and igniting tense standoffs with neighbors over where ships carrying rescued migrants could dock.
The stance has prompted urgent talks among European neighbors to try to find a lasting solution to the migration issue. EU leaders are due to meet for an informal summit on migration Wednesday and Thursday in Austria.
Cover image: Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn and Italian Interior Minister and deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini take part in a round of discussions during an informal meeting that focuses in particular on a common migration plan on July 12, 2018 in Innsbruck, Austria. (BARBARA GINDL / APA / AFP)