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WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Italy's hard-line interior minister vowed Wednesday to work with Poland to create a "new European spring" as he sought to build an alliance with Poland's ruling populists ahead of the European Parliament elections in May.
After a meeting with Poland's powerful ruling party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini expressed satisfaction and said they agreed "90 percent" about what should be done to reform the European Union.
Salvini said he wants to reduce the grip of Socialists and other left-wing leaders at the EU, saying "they have already caused enough damage." He described the EU that he wants to see as one rooted in the continent's Christian heritage with strong borders that keep out migrants.
His aim, Salvini said, is to build "a common alliance of who wants to save Europe."
"This is a historic chance," he told reporters at a news conference at the Italian Embassy in Warsaw.
The European Parliament elections, being held across the EU from May 23-26, are shaping up into a battle between liberal pro-EU forces backed by leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron, and populist euroskeptics represented by Salvini and far-right leaders including France's Marine Le Pen.
Kaczynski did not comment after the meeting. However, his party's spokeswoman Beata Mazurek posted a photo of the two men with their delegations and said the talks were "positive" and "full of common understanding." However, she also said some issues were raised in which the two sides differ.
Salvini's League, one of two parties in Italy's ruling coalition, and Kaczynski's governing Law and Justice party in Poland are both staunchly anti-migrant and often criticize how the EU functions now.
However, Polish skepticism about Salvini's friendly approach to Russian President Vladimir Putin could be an impediment to their collaboration. So could Salvini's friendliness with Le Pen, who is also viewed as beholden to Moscow, due to loans her party took from a Russian bank.
Earlier in the day Salvini also met with his Polish counterpart Joachim Brudzinski, arriving at the Interior Ministry in Warsaw wearing a jacket with the word "Polizia" (police) on the back.
"In Europe, one has always spoken about a French-German axis," Salvini said in a news conference there. "We are preparing for a new equilibrium and a new energy in Europe. And Poland and Italy will be the protagonists of this new European spring, of this rebirth of true European values."
Salvini also slammed a new EU-brokered deal to distribute rescued migrants among several EU countries. He said the deal would only encourage human traffickers to launch more unseaworthy boats across the Mediterranean, reiterating his longstanding opposition to accepting any more new arrivals.
Brudzinski said he rejected accusations that the Polish and Italian governments were seeking to leave the EU, saying their aim is "to have influence on what our common, European home is going to look like."
Both populist governments have been embroiled in conflicts with Brussels over topics of national sovereignty. Poland's clash has involved changes to its judicial system that some see as anti-democratic, while Italy's battles with the EU have centered on its budget spending.
Poland's ruling party faced sharp comments from domestic critics for its apparent openness to Salvini.
Poland's main opposition leader, Grzegorz Schetyna, called the meeting between Salvini and Kaczynski "absurd and shocking." He referred to Salvini's League as a "nationalist, radical and pro-Russian party."