Italy's coalition government of the populist Five Star Movement and the far-right League party has failed to ease tensions in Brussels between vocal pro-Europeans and nationalists. Where are the Five Star's allegiances?
Divisions are deepening in Europe, where a nationalist bloc, led by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, is squaring off against vocal pro-European liberals supporting French President Emmanuel Macron.
Fabio Castaldo, a vice president in the European Parliament and MEP for Italy's Five Star Movement, told DW's Conflict Zone his populist party will offer a "third way … not with Orban and not with Macron."
Third way or the highway?
The Italian MEP recognized the division between nationalist and pro-EU blocs, but also criticized Macron's approach, which "ideologically is pro-European, but then from his concrete policy day-by-day, we see that he is very nationalistic as well, in the interests of his country, and he is trying to deny the reality of many problems," Castaldo said.
Without a reform of the Dublin Regulation and the eurozone, "we are ready to even think about possibly using the veto on the next budget. And this is our prerogative," he said.
Populist or popular?
The Five Star Movement, formed in 2009 amidst the fallout of the global financial crisis, convinced more than 10.7 million Italians in March 2018 to vote for their anti-establishment platform, making them the largest single party with over 32 percent of the vote.
But with their offer of a coalition rebuffed by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his Democratic Party, Five Star turned to Matteo Salvini's far-right, anti-immigrant League party to form a government.
"Me and Salvini, we seem to share the same destiny. He is my hero," Orban told reporters before a joint press conference with the League party leader in August
How much do the coalition partners disagree over the migrant crisis?
"All the discussion of the [European] Council was always, always to find and to implement what is our position. That means a mandatory, preventive redistribution [of migrants] among the different countries."
Salvini and the League campaigned saying they would deport 500,000 illegal migrants if elected and said in June they would keep the pledge to "send them home."
"Matteo Salvini sometimes is expressing a very tough and strong declaration, but he … is saying that on behalf of himself. The action of the government is sensibly different," Castaldo said.
Confronted by Tim Sebastian with the treatment of migrants in Libya, Castaldo told the Conflict Zone host: "All Europe is not able to face the problem because the position to have an agreement with Libya was not just from the Italian government; it was backed by all the EU countries."
So were these lousy deals the EU had made?
"Of course, we are trying just to move the problem inside other countries … But the problem is still there."
The Diciotti was allowed to dock after a deal was brokered by the Catholic Church, which agreed to take most of the migrants. Ireland and Albania also agreed to take 20 each
In August, around 140 migrants were trapped for days on an Italian coast guard boat after Salvini, the interior minister in Italy's coalition government, refused to allow the ship to dock.
Was Castaldo happy with how the situation had been handled by Salvini?
"I can see that as a terrible consequence of the fact that the EU does not want to solve the problem," said Castaldo, who went on to accuse Emmanuel Macron of hypocrisy for blaming Italy: "He has militarized the border with Italy in Ventimiglia … There are also massive reports from the human rights NGO about violations by the French authorities and the French police about the right of the migrants. Well, what is the answer, the European answer on that?"
Challenged by Tim Sebastian that his party shared responsibility for the League's actions as coalition partners, Castaldo said that was why he wanted a European solution, adding, "Why my country has to deal with 700,000 migrants all alone? This is the European solidarity?"
Macron criticized Italy in June when the Aquarius rescue ship was turned away. Salvini tweeted recently that the ship could go anywhere "but not to Italy."
The Catholic Church has also criticized Salvini's stance on migrants. When a Christian magazine compared him to Satan on its cover in July, Salvini posted a Tweet on the anniversary of Mussolini's birth that parroted a well-known slogan used by the Italian dictator.
Castaldo said that he had not heard about the post, though it had been widely reported. "If he did such a kind of communication, this is not an appropriate one. He should not have done this, and I hope he will clarify that it has nothing to do with fascist apology."
In a newspaper interview ahead of the recent EU leaders' summit in Salzburg, Castaldo said the Italian government would "provide all the possible support" for the UK in its search for a Brexit deal.
Castaldo said his Five Star party wanted to prevent "any kind of punishment" of Theresa May's government over Brexit
But had they left the UK in the lurch at a critical time after Theresa May's humiliation over the rejection of her "Chequers" plan for leaving the EU?
"We did not want to break up the front of the negotiation; at the same time, inside the front of the 27, we are playing the role of the mediator," he said, adding: "In this case we think that silent diplomacy can achieve better results than … a kind of war with public statements."