Italy dismisses warning over Fascists

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Ghosts of the 1930s stalked the corridors of the European Parliament yesterday, after a row erupted with Rome over neo-Fascists in the Italian government.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament adopted a demand that European Union member states make clear to Italy that the government must 'remain faithful to the fundamental values underlying the creation of the European Community.'

The Socialist group in the parliament said it will have no contact with neo-Fascist deputies of Gianfranco Fini's National Alliance (AN), or with neo-Fascist ministers, should there be any, and will throw out members who back Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia in the European elections.

Mr Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister-designate, his right- wing allies and officials of state, firmly dismissed the unprecedented warning. Opposition leaders agreed that the parliament was right.

The media magnate, who is trying to put together a government amid a set of problems, said 'just because one sits in the European parliament does not mean that one understands what is going on. In fact the evidence is to the contrary.' Mr Berlusconi has already stated there will be no neo-Fascist ministers in his cabinet.

He backed the stern response of President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, saying Italy's attachment to European values is 'clear and undisputed' and that the country 'does not need reminding or teaching' how it should behave.

Presidential officials spoke of 'unacceptable interference' in internal affairs. Carlo Scogniamiglio, the speaker of the Senate, wrote to the president of the European Parliament, Egon Klepsch, saying: 'The Italian people and its democratically-elected legislative assemblies are and will remain the sole judges of questions involving national sovereignty.'

Jean-Pierre Cot, leader of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, denied the parliament's move was out of order. 'I do not accept that this constitutes an interference,' he told reporters in Strasbourg. 'It's not a question of legality, it's a question of legitimacy,' he said. 'We, for our part, will have nothing to do with them.'

The AN in Italy is trying to create a different image of itself ahead of the European elections. Mr Fini has called the AN a Gaullist party. This is unlikely to prove popular with French neo-Gaullists.

Yesterday Gustavo Silva of the AN tried to play down his group's right-wing affiliations, telling reporters fascism was dead. 'It was born with Mussolini and it died with Mussolini on 25th April 1945,' he said. He claimed the AN was a coalition of different forces. 'It sees itself in full agreement with Nato and the United Nations and will work in order to make the European Union better able to play an important role.' But he said there were 'good things' in fascism, 'as in anti- fascism,' praising fascism's social policies.

The issue is proving a rallying point for the centre and left in Europe ahead of June's European elections. Memories of fascism are still strong, and the rise in right-wing, anti-foreigner violence has stirred concern.

In Italy, several small parties - Mr Segni's Pact for Italy, the Democratic Alliance and the French and German-language minority groups, refused to join the government because of the possibility of neo-Fascist ministers.

Although Mr Berlusconi needs another 15 votes for a majority in the Senate - he already has one in the Chamber of Deputies - this is not his main headache. The big obstacle in his way to Palazzo Chigi - Rome's No 10 Downing Street - is the Northern League's insistence on having the key Interior Ministry, and his own refusal, backed quietly by Mr Fini, to give it them.