Buoyed by his party’s resounding success in the European elections, Matteo Salvini threw down the gauntlet with Brussels on Tuesday, demanding that the EU relax its spending rules for member states.
The deputy prime minister, whose League party emerged as by far the strongest political force with 34% of the vote, said he was determined to ramp up spending on infrastructure and tax cuts, in comments which alarmed the financial markets.
The spending plans are likely to raise Italy’s deficit and herald a showdown with the European Commission, which is already concerned about the country’s huge debt levels.
Italy’s debt equates to 132% of the country’s GDP – far above the 60% ceiling set by Brussels and the highest debt level in the EU after Greece.
Mr Salvini laid down the challenge during a Facebook Live broadcast in which he spoke directly into his mobile phone while pacing the roof of the Italian interior ministry.
Under a blue sky flecked with clouds, he spoke fluently and without a script for nearly half an hour, railing against EU-imposed austerity policies.
Since taking office last June, the hard-Right leader has shown himself to be a genius in connecting with ordinary people on social media, using Facebook Live to deliver chatty, man-of-the-people addresses which are watched and commented on by tens of thousands of Italians.