The eurosceptic anti-immigration League leader demanded the European Commission president resign or, at the very least, apologise for what he described as “squalid threats”.
During an event in the United States on Thursday, von der Leyen was asked if she had any concerns about the Italian elections, which Salvini’s coalition partner, far-right leader Giorgia Meloni, is currently tipped to win.
“My approach is that whatever democratic government is willing to work with us, we’re working together,” she said.
She then added: “We’ll see. If things go in a difficult direction – I’ve spoken about Hungary and Poland – we have tools.”
Salvini, whose League party currently risks losing swathes of supporters to Meloni, responded with outrage. “What is that, a threat? Shameful arrogance. Respect the free, democratic and sovereign vote of the Italian people!” he tweeted.
Speaking to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, he later said that von der Leyen should “apologise, or she should resign”.
Antonio Tajani, a member of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party – which is also part of Meloni’s right-wing coalition – also condemned the EU chief for her “interference”.
In Brussels, von der Leyen’s spokesman, Eric Mamer, highlighted the chief’s willingness to work with whoever wins Sunday’s elections.
“It is absolutely clear that the president did not intervene in the Italian elections,” he told reporters. “When she made reference to tools, she specifically referred to procedures under way in other EU countries.”
The EU has recently accused both Hungary and Poland of flouting the EU rule of law, with the Commission proposing to suspend 7.5 billion euros in financing for Budapest.