After coming under fire for comments that appeared to praise Italy’s 20th-century Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani apologised “to all those who may have been offended by what I said, which in no way intends to justify or play down an anti-democratic and totalitarian regime”.

Adding that he was “not a Fascist” Tajani had been the subject of intense criticism in the last 24 hours after saying on Italian radio that Mussolini, one of Adolf Hitler‘s closest wartime allies, had left some positive legacy in Italy before the start of World War II.

“Mussolini? Before he declared war on the entire world, following Hitler; before he introduced racial laws… he did some positive things to build infrastructure in our country,” said Tajaniduring his Radio24 interview, adding that Mussolini  “built roads, bridges, buildings, sports facilities,” and reclaimed large swaths of Italy from marshes. “If we look at concrete facts, we can’t say he hasn’t achieved anything.”

Though Tajani appeared to apologise for his gaffe, he later followed to lay the blame on the media for his comments on the media. “Shame on those who manipulate what I’ve allegedly said on Fascism. I’ve always been a convinced anti-Fascist, I will not allow anyone to suggest otherwise. The Fascist dictatorship, racial laws, and deaths it caused are the darkest page in Italian and European history.”

Tajani did admit that Mussolini was “no champion of democracy,” adding that his anti-Jewish laws were “crazy” and the declaration of war was “an act of suicide.”

The President of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, Udo Bullman, suggested that Tajani’s quotes were “unbelievable,” wondering “how can a president of the European Parliament fail to acknowledge the nature of Fascism?”

In February, Tajani came under fire for referring to Slovenia’s Istria peninsula and the Dalmatian coast of Croatia as “Italian territory”. The former is administratively shared by Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy. It was once a part of the Venetian Republic between the 13th and 17th centuries, roughly 250 years before the founding of a unified Italian state. It was ceded to Italy from the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I but was then handed over to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1947.

Like Istria, Dalmatia had once been a part of the Republic of Venice but had never been a constituent part of Italy at any time in its history.