Neo-Fascists: Socialist fury mounts against Italy's far right: Campaign launched to keep them out of important posts in Parliament and to boycott Italian products

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THE fight against the far right took centre stage in the European election yesterday, with pressure on the Conservatives and other centre-rightists to cold-shoulder neo-Fascist ministers and calls to boycott Italian products.

Jean-Pierre Cot, leader of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, called for all elected members to prevent neo-Fascists winning posts of importance in the assembly. At a televised press conference in Brussels linking all 12 states, he said that the next parliament would block the new European Commission if it contained any neo-Fascist members. The Socialists have taken a hard line on the issue, and put it at the centre of their campaign, along with the fight against unemployment.

Yesterday Mr Cot called on other political groups to take the same tack, including the European People's Party, with which the Tories are linked. 'We are disquieted by the silence of the centre right throughout recent developments which have seen neo-Fascists come to power in Italy,' he said. The Italian cabinet includes members of the neo-Fascist-led National Alliance.

On Monday, the Socialist Belgian Telecommunications Minister refused to shake hands with his opposite number, a neo-Fascist, and made a speech protesting his presence. A right-wing Italian also attended a meeting of farm ministers, but was given an easier ride.

Yesterday Pauline Green, leader of Britain's Labour MEPs, criticised the ministers' attendance and British ministers' refusal to make any gesture of criticism. She said the Conservatives should clarify their position.

'The National Alliance may be democratically elected but that should not prevent Conservative ministers expressing their abhorrence of their policies,' she said. 'Europe has suffered too much for neo-Fascists to be welcomed with open arms by this government.'

In Denmark, five Social Democrats have proposed a consumer boycott of Italian products and holidays. 'We can all make an effort to tell the Italian public that we are very worried about democratic development in their country,' said a Social Democratic newsletter. Dorte Bennedsen, one of the five and a former minister, told the newspaper Information: 'I think consumers should in their daily life ask themselves: what will I support and what will I not support.'

Attacks from other governments, including France's President Francois Mitterrand, and the European Parliament, have irritated the Italian government. But with elections approaching, European Socialist parties have seized on the issue as a way of rallying support. The Dutch, German, British and French parties have all used the issue in campaign rallies.

The question of neo-Fascists in European institutions will also be used by social democrat and socialist opponents of EU integration in Sweden, Finland and Norway during the coming polls on EU membership. Denmark's Prime Minister, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, will raise the issue with colleagues in Sweden and Norway, and the board of the Social Democrat party will also discuss it.

The presence of those who espouse neo-Fascist views raises genuine revulsion among many politicians. Comments praising Mussolini and his policies, attacking gays or hinting at racism have made some sort of public confrontation between the European Parliament and Italy inevitable. So far there have been no clashes between Italian ministers and their colleagues. But Italy is threatening to obstruct relations with Slovenia over what it claims are unresolved border problems and compensation for war-time expulsions. This could cause a row with Germany, which is particularly keen to see the former Yugoslav republic's way cleared to EU membership.

(Photograph omitted)