Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Conte insisted his country's EU partners quit following what he called a "nationalistic logic" and instead take in some of the tens of thousands of economic migrants brought to Italy after rescue at sea but who are ineligible for asylum.
"Let's put into practice an authentic solidarity," said Conte, whose populist government includes a coalition partner that advocates "Italians first" policies in foreign affairs. Christian Democrat leader Manfred Weber used the parliament's debate on the future of Europe to appeal to Conte for Italy to join the "common European approach" that recognizes Venezuelan congress leader Juan Guaido as his country's interim leader until a new presidential election is held in the South American nation.
"Guaido has asked Italy to recognize him. I think that you should answer Guaido if you think that there must be a common European approach" to issues, Weber said. Earlier on Tuesday, Italy's foreign minister said in Rome that his government considers illegitimate last year's re-election of Nicolas Maduro as Venezuelan president but stopped short of joining EU recognition for Guaido's role.
In his retort, Conte contended that recognizing Guaido risked aggravating the South American nation's crisis by "crowning one actor over another." The senior partner in Conte's government, the euro-skeptic 5-Star Movement, staunchly backed Maduro's predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.
European lawmaker Udo Bullmann slammed the Italian-French diplomatic spat between the two major trading partners. "In contests like these, no one comes out a winner. It's a classic lose-lose situation," Bullmann said during the debate.
Last week, Paris called back its ambassador from Rome after 5-Star chief Luigi Di Maio met in France with leaders of the yellow vest movement that has violently protested the policies of French President Emmanuel Macron. The French leader has derided Italy's populist policies as a "nationalist leprosy" eroding European unity.
Conte alluded to the spat, saying "bilateral quarrels represent more the effect than the cause of an inability of Europe to propose solutions" to the continent's problems. Italy's populist parties are vowing to make populism the biggest force after the May elections for the European Parliament.
Conte scolded the European Union for "losing contact with its people and making ever more unfillable" the distance "between Brussels and the many peripheries of the continent."