The president of the European Parliament was forced to apologise on Thursday for defending Benito Mussolini and claiming that the Fascist dictator should be credited with some positive achievements.
Antonio Tajani, a centre-Right politician, said that Il Duce had done some “positive things” such as building roads and bridges before imprisoning political opponents, implementing draconian discrimination laws against Italian Jews, allying with Hitler and plunging Italy into war.
"You don’t have to agree with his methods… but let’s be honest, Mussolini built roads, bridges, buildings, sports installations, he remade many parts of our Italy," he said during a radio interview.
"Generally speaking I don’t think his government action was positive. But things were done," he added.
With some MEPs in Brussels and politicians in Italy calling for his resignation, Mr Tajani put out a statement apologising for his remarks.
"As a convinced anti-fascist, I apologise to all those who may have been offended by what I said.
“My remarks were in no way intended to justify or minimise an anti-democratic and totalitarian regime.”
In a tweet, he wrote: "The fascist dictatorship, racial laws and the deaths it caused are the darkest page in Italian and European history".
A close ally of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and a member of his Forza Italia party, which is in opposition, there was speculation that Mr Tajani made the remarks to appeal to Right-wing voters ahead of the European Parliament elections in May.
Mr Berlusconi and his party, once dominant on the political scene, have been eclipsed by the hard-Right League, led by the pugnacious Matteo Salvini, who is both interior minister and deputy prime minister in the current coalition government.
"The statements by the president of the European parliament are unworthy and absolutely unacceptable," said Ska Keller, a German MEP and the head of the Greens-European Free Alliance grouping in the European Parliament.
Stefano Buffagni, a junior minister in the Italian government and a member of the Five Star Movement, one half of the coalition, said: “Tajani has shown his true colours and should be ashamed of what he said about Mussolini".