The brother-in-law and close political ally of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has warned that Italy’s low birth rate and an increase in irregular immigration could lead to “ethnic replacement,” sparking anger from the country’s opposition.
Francesco Lollobrigida remarks comes in response to a recent report which found Italy has one of the world’s lowest birthrates with fewer than 400,000 births in 2022.
He made the comments at a conference on Tuesday, where he said that incentives to have more babies, suggested by Meloni, did not mean women had to stay home to raise them.
“The way is to build a welfare system that allows you to work and have a family, supporting young couples to find employment,” he said. “Italians are having fewer children, so we’re replacing them with someone else. Yes to helping births, no to ethnic replacement. That’s not the way forward.”
Elly Schlein, the new head of Italy’s Democratic Party, described Lollobrigida’s statement as “disgusting” and “reminiscent of the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini.”
She accused Lollobrigida of reverting to the mentality of the 1930s, saying his words “have a flavor of white supremacism.”
Speaking to reporters at a protest against the state of emergency against migrants in Rome, Schlein added that she hopes Meloni’s government distances itself from the statements, “made on the day when President (Sergio) Mattarella is visiting Auschwitz.”
Lollobrigida said that while he was not against controlled immigration, noting his grandfather emigrated to Italy, irregular migration is a threat.
“If there are requests for a workforce, when you have exhausted the internal demand, you can, you must provide a workforce that also comes from other countries. It must be clarified that the first enemy of regular immigration, made through organized flows, is illegal and clandestine immigration,” he said.
Meloni’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and she has yet to make a public statement. Matteo Salvini, a junior partner in Meloni’s coalition of far-right and center-right parties, had previously tweeted about the threat of “ethnic replacement” in 2017, and Meloni had used the term in political speeches in 2016.
Italy has had a record number of arrivals by sea this year, with 34,715 people arriving as of April 19, according to the Interior ministry.
Far right White supremacist groups and conservative media personalities in both Europe and the US have been widely condemned in recent years for attempting to inflame nativist feelings among conservative White populations by warning that immigrants are “replacing” native born populations.
Replacement theory was first popularized by French writer Renaud Camus with his 2011 essay, “Le Grand Remplacement,” which posited White Europeans were being replaced by Muslim immigration.