Just a few weeks after the country’s new eurosceptic government was sworn in, fears have grown across the bloc about whether Italy could follow Britain out of the bloc amid growing resentment towards Brussels.
Now, Germany’s Heiko Maas has warned the EU must offer disillusioned citizens something new to but a stop to the increasing euroscepticism threatening the bloc.
He told youth activists in a converted railway station in Berlin: “We must be alarmed that in Italy, one of the pillars of Europe and so far one of our closest partners, almost one in two people thinks that the country does not benefit from being a member of the EU.
“To the legitimate expectation of the people of the South for solidarity, Europe must find a convincing answer.”
His statement comes amid a rise in populism in countries such as Italy, Austria and Germany itself have become more prevalant.
Mr Maas added the correct response to Donald Trump’s “America First” strategy should be “Europe Untied”.
Mr Mass told the students: “We need a balanced partnership with the U.S.,” he told youth activists in a converted railway station, “where we as Europeans act as a conscious counterweight when the U.S. oversteps red lines.”
“Donald Trump’s egotistical politics of “America First”, Russia’s attacks on international law and state sovereignty, the expansion of gigantic China: the world order we were used to – it no longer exists.”
But following the rise of far-right politics and Euroscepticism in Italy, Mr Maas said the rise of anti-EU politics across the bloc had grown to an alarming rate.
Mr Maas devoted much of his speech to laying the groundwork for the kind of closer European cooperation that would be needed in a new era.
He also made reference to the need to “plaster over” previous European divisions and create a unified, fortified EU state.
According to Ansa, in a speech titled “Courage to Stand Up for Europe”, Mr Maas said: “We must be alarmed that in Italy, one of the pillars of Europe and so far, one of our closest partners, almost one in two people thinks
“To the legitimate expectation of the people of the South for solidarity, Europe must find a convincing answer”
Mr Maas also said East European member states felt alienated by what they saw as attempts to impose refugees on them and needed to be offered the chance to take more ownership of EU policies.
The migrant ship Aquarius, containing 629 migrants, was floating on the Mediterranean for three days after being rejected by Italy and Malta, before Spain eventually offered the ship safe passage.
Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of Lega, on Wednesday created a diplomatic spat when he demanded an apology from France, after President Macron blasted Rome as acting with “cynicism and irresponsibility” for turning the migrant ship Aquarius away on Tuesday.
Newly appointed Italian president Guiseppe Conte is considering scrapping a planned visit to France over the row, with deputy Salvini telling the Senate: “We have nothing to learn about generosity, voluntarism, welcoming, and solidarity from anyone.”
On Wednesday, an Italian government source told Reuters that Mr Conte was “tending towards pushing back the trip to Paris. At the moment the conditions (for the meeting) don’t exist.”
Additonal reporting by Maria Ortega