STRASBOURG, France – European Parliament president Antonio Tajani faced continued backlash on Thursday over comments that late Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini did positive things for the country, such as improve its roads.
Tajani said that before joining Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in World War II and introducing racial laws in Italy, Mussolini made positive changes, such as improving infrastructure.
In the aftermath, the deputy leader of Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing Forza Italia, tweeted: “Shame on those who manipulate what I’ve allegedly said on fascism. I’ve always been a convinced anti-fascist, I will not allow anyone to suggest otherwise. The fascist dictatorship, racial laws and deaths it caused are the darkest page in Italian and European history.”
During the interview with Radio24 on Wednesday, he criticized Mussolini’s anti-Jewish laws and said he was not democratic.
“If we look at concrete facts, we can’t say he didn’t achieve anything,” he added.
A stream of condemnation filled social media overnight, and leaders from Liberal, Social Democrat, Greens and Left parties called for the topic to be discussed during an EU parliament session in Strasbourg Thursday.
Philippe Lamberts, chairman of the Greens/European Free Alliance, led criticism in the chamber.
He said he wanted to remind Tajani that one of the reasons the European Parliament was established was to prevent fascism from flourishing again.
Guy Verhofstadt, who leads the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, requested Tajani retract his statement.
Esteban Gonzalez Pons, a Spanish MEP for the Popular Party and vice-president of the European People’s Party – of which Forza Italia is a member – condemned fascism and communism.
“We can all make errors in front of the media or they misinterpret you,” he said.
His comments were criticized by Iratxe Garcia who leads the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), the PP’s domestic foe, in the EP.
Mussolini ruled Italy from 1922-43. He joined with German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in World War II.
He was captured by partisans as he tried to flee Italy with his mistress Clara Peracci in 1945 and executed by firing squad. His body was later hung upside from a service station in Milan for the public to see.
His granddaughter Alessandra Mussolini sits as an MEP, also for Forza Italia.