European political, business leaders apologize after WWII-related remarks

The bosses of Europe’s largest automaker and European Parliament apologized Thursday for separate gaffes that evoked two of the continent’s most infamous dictatorial regimes.

Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess speaks ahead of the International CES trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada, on January 5, 2016. File Photo by Molly Riley
Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess speaks ahead of the International CES trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada, on January 5, 2016. File Photo by Molly Riley

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani of Italy drew outrage when he suggested that former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini “had done positive things for the infrastructure of our country.”
“I didn’t intend to banalize the darkest page in history,” he said to apologize after making the remarks on Italian radio Wednesday, Il Corriere della Sera reported.

The initial comments drew swift criticism in Europe.

“How can a president of the European parliament fail to acknowledge the nature of fascism?” Udo Bullmann, the leader of the parliament’s Socialist group, asked.

“Tajani has shown his true colors,” said Stefano Buffagni, undersecretary of regional affairs of Italy’s Five-Star Movement, The Guardian reported.

Tajani’s apology came amid another controversy involving Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess, who recently evoked the Nazi phrase “Arbeit macht frei” (Work sets you free) with comments at a company event.

Diess had said “Ebit macht frei,” a play on the accounting term “Ebit,” which is an acronym to describe “earnings before interest and taxes” and a key part of business financial statements. Afterward, Diess put out a statement saying it was “definitely an unfortunate choice of words.”

The “Arbeit macht frei” phrase is from the National Socialist regime led by Nazi leader Adolph Hitler and was placed at the entrance of several concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau.

ByRenzo Pipoli