On the eve of a European Parliament vote on Hungary's human rights record, hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini on Tuesday said he and his supporters oppose EU sanctions against the authoritarian government of far-right Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban.
"We will vote in defence of Orban - the European Parliament cannot put nations and their elected governments on trial," said Salvini, who heads the anti-migrant League party and Italy's conservative alliance.
MEPs will decide on Wednesday whether to trigger a little-tested EU rule of law procedure against Orban over the weakening of press freedom and an erosion of judicial independence in Hungary as well as alleged misspending of EU funds by Orban's friends and family during his premiership.
If Euro MPs vote to launch Article 7 sanction procedures against Orban's government, it could lead to a suspension of Hungary's voting rights in EU affairs.
During talks in Milan last month, Salvini and Orban called each other "heros" and pledged to create a pan-European anti-migrant alliance ahead of next year’s European parliamentary elections.