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Italy hands eurosceptic League minister the EU portfolio

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Italy hands eurosceptic League minister the EU portfolio
FILE PHOTO: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is pictured before a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Rome, Italy July 4, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi   -   Copyright  YARA NARDI(Reuters)
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ROME (Reuters) – Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Wednesday Family Minister Lorenzo Fontana, a committed eurosceptic and member of the far-right League, would become Italy’s next European affairs minister.

The EU position has been held on a temporary basis by Conte since February, when the previous incumbent, anti-euro economist Paolo Savona, became head of the country’s market watchdog.

The appointment of Fontana underscores the coalition government’s desire to challenge the European Union’s mainstream agenda of free trade, globalisation and ever-closer political integration.

Fontana, 39, is close to League leader Matteo Salvini and served as a member of the European Parliament from 2009 to 2018 before entering the government last year. He used his new position to denounce same-sex marriage and call for the repeal of a law which punishes racial and religious discrimination.

He hit the headlines in March when he helped organise the anti-abortion, anti-gay annual World Congress of Families in his home city of Verona — an event which was condemned by opponents as a festival of mediaeval thinking.

During his lengthy spell at the European Parliament, Fontana called for Italy to leave the euro — in line with the League policy at the time.

The party has since dropped this stance, but has still called for root and branch change within the European Union to give member states greater sovereignty and to rewrite the bloc’s budget rules.

The EU affairs ministry oversees the incorporation of EU rules into the Italian law books but carries little weight within the cabinet — something that persuaded the previous minister to move on after less than a year in office.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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