Matteo Salvini’s Italian Lega party has often been linked to a policy of leaving the European Union – but the controversial interior minister has shot down speculation of an Italexit.
Speaking to Time Magazine, the right-wing politician pledged to keep Italy inside the EU and change the Brussels-led bloc from within.
He claimed that history will show him to be a saviour of Europe, alongside other European allies like Hungary, Austria and Poland.
Mr Salvini has launched a severe and dramatic crackdown on illegal immigration since his coalition government came to power.
This week, he further provoked the ire of EU establishment officials for comparing African immigrants to slaves.
Mr Salvini also hit out at top EU economic official Pierre Moscovici, telling him to “wash his mouth out” after Mr Moscovici spoke about the spread of “little Mussolinis” in Europe.
The Italian deputy prime minister was in turn criticised by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for his “constant attacks” on Brussels.
Mr Salvini told Time changing Europe was his big goal, adding that “it’s at our fingertips”.
He explained: ” I think that history will entrust us with the role of saving European values — from Judeo-Christian roots to the right to work, the right to security.
“This union has grown too much, and too quickly, without common roots, only with a common currency.
“We are working to re-establish the European spirit that has been betrayed by those who govern this union.
“I choose to change things from within. That is probably more difficult, it is longer and more complicated but it is a more concrete solution.
“We are growing, and we are allying with other European countries to change the E.U. from within. If we leave, it would be the end of hope.”
Vivienne Walt, who interviewed Mr Salvini, told France24 afterwards: “The whole issue of an exit is over for now. You don’t hear these leaders say that. They are saying, we will change this form within, which is a lot more subversive prospect than bailing out.”
Earlier this week, tensions erupted at a behind-closed-doors sesion at a European conference on security and immigration in Vienna.
Mr Salvini published a video of a tense exchange between himself and Luxembourg’s foreign minister Jean Asselborn during a debate on migration.
In the footage, Mr Salvini says: “In Italy there’s the need to help our kids have kids, not to have new slaves to replace the children we’re not having.”
Mr Asselborn, who is visibily irritated by the Italian’s remarks, fires back with a French curse: “Merde alors!”
On Tuesday, Mr Salvini lashed out at Brussels for not taking sufficient action to curb Europe’s migration crisis.
Speaking to the BBC, he said: “Brussels has been promising us help and assistance for years and has been doing nothing.”