The Italians will soon head to the polls in an election that has been flagged as the sort of political event with the potential to rattle the eurozone and shake up financial markets, while catapulting a colorful former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi ...
Mr Salvini, 45, is a key member of the centre-right wing coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi and the leader of the heavily eurosceptic Lega Nord (Northern League).
His party is the second-largest of the alliance currently seen as the favourite to win the most seats in Rome, which makes him one of the candidates that could become the future Italian PM.
The party’s programme has changed since he took over the leadership in 2013, transforming the once regional party into a national force endorsing a hard line on immigration and Islamist terrorism.
Dubbed “the Italian Farage” for his anti-Europeanism, he has vowed to make “extreme” reforms to European laws if elected, has threatened the EU with the possibility of an "Italexit" and pledged in his party’s manifesto to “defend Italian borders from the invasion” of illegal immigrants.
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Who is Matteo Salvini?
Mr Salvini entered the political scene in 1990, when Lega Nord was a regional party aiming to make the northern and richer parts of Italy more independent from "Rome the thief".
In 1992 he enrolled at Università Degli Studi di Milano to study History.
He never completed his studies, and in 2008 he said that “the independence of northern Italy from Rome would arrive before his degree”.
Starting his political career as a councillor for the city of Milan in 1993, he was first elected MEP 11 years later, bringing to Brussels his euro-scepticism.
He regained his seats twice, in 2008 and in 2013, but became a major player in Italian politics when, on the same year, he was crowned leader of Lega Nord defeating the party’s founder Umberto Bossi.
Mr Salvini is a key member of the centre-right wing coalition led by Mr Berlusconi, leftMr Salvini was fully endorsing the separatist ideas of Lega Nord in the 1990s – in 1999 he refused to shake the hand of former Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi as he “didn’t feel represented by him”.
Yet, after gaining the leadership, he shifted the focus of his party on the problems posed by immigration and the European Union rather than the disparities between north and south of Italy.
He also raised the profile of the party gaining international allies.
Mr Salvini declared his support for Donald Trump in 2016, and met the tycoon months before he was elected president to discuss Europe’s migrant crisis.
Speaking about Mr Trump he said: “His rigour, his strategy for economic recovery, his security policies, all make me root for Trump.”
Mr Salvini also adopted Mr Trump’s “America first” slogan and adapted it to Italy, saying that "Italians should come first" and receive state's benefits and help before immigrants.
As a consequence, he argues that a way to put an end to racism is to tackle immigration.
He said: “Italians are not racist, but out-of-control immigration brings with it far from positive reactions”.
The Northern League’s leader has also links with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
In 2014 he branded the sanction against the Russian president “senseless” and said that those who were "playing war" with Mr Putin were “idiots”.
In March 2017 Mr Salvini signed a co-operation agreement with United Russia, Putin's party.
Mr Salvini’s spokeswoman Iva Garibaldi said: "Nothing happens in practice, but it is the first time that we sign a deal that sees our movements ready to co-operate on issues regarding immigration and foreign policy, such as the fight against terrorism.
Eurosceptic Salvini has often been in the news for his shocking declarations“We are two parties who are starting to work together more closely on the basis of a shared programme".
The Eurosceptic has often been in the news for his shocking declaration.
In 2009 he blasted Milan Archbishop Dionigi Tettamanzi because the clergyman “didn’t identify the Romani community as the source of many problems"; in 2015 he wrote on Facebook that former Italian Minister of Integration Cécile Kyenge was “useful to Italian citizens just like a mosquito in a bedroom”.
Mr Salvini is divorced and has two children, one from his ex-wife journalist Fabrizia Ieluzzi and one from his former partner Giulia Martinelli.
What does Matteo Salvini think of the EU?
Mr Salvini has always been fiercely critic of the European Union.
In 2014 he said that “it’s not possible to reform the EU, it should be demolished and rebuilt from the ground”.
As an MEP, Mr Salvini founded in 2015 Europe of Nations and Freedom together with Marine Le Pen and other Eurosceptic parties, a group demanding every country involved to leave the euro currency and a full revision of treaties and immigration laws.
More recently, he has described the euro a “German currency” and a “mistake”.
He said: “We don’t have a euro in our pockets.
Mr Salvini called the euro a 'German currency'“We have a German mark which they called the euro”.
Claiming the european currency was damaging the Italian’s economy, he recently said he was “preparing an emergency exit for the Italians”.
In Lega Nord’s manifesto, the EU is called “a strong and fearsome enemy” that only Mr Salvini and his party’s members can properly face.
His criticism towards the bloc could cause friction with ally Silvio Berlusconi, who wants Italy to remain in the EU and is a member of the transnational organisation European People's Party.
Mr Salvini protesting against the sanctions against Russia at the European ParliamentWill Matteo Salvini win Italian election 2018?
The centre-right wing coalition, which includes Lega Nord, is currently the only force, according to the polls, that will be able to form a government on March 5.
Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia is the alliance’s main party, but Lega Nord’s popularity has been growing in the last few months.
If the party manages to increase its popularity in southern areas too – where the party conveniently got rid of the word “Nord” in the symbol – it could outdo Forza Italia at the ballot.
Although Mr Berlusconi’s has reassured his European allies that there won’t be an anti-EU PM in Italy, if Mr Salvini’s party won over Forza Italia, he could be forced to accept the Eurosceptic as a new prime minister.
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