Italy's far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini questioned in comments published Friday whether the European Union, deeply split on migration and other issues, will survive the events of the coming year.
"Within a year it will be decided whether there will still be a united Europe or not," Salvini, head of the anti-immigration League party, told German news weekly Der Spiegel.
It will become clear in upcoming EU budget talks and ahead of 2019 European Parliament elections "whether the whole thing has become meaningless", he said.
Salvini earlier this month barred the Aquarius rescue ship, carrying some 630 migrants, from docking in Italy, triggering an EU-wide row and sharp criticism from France.
The new populist government in Rome accuses fellow EU members of abandoning Italy as it tries to cope with migrants making the perilous journey from Africa across the Mediterranean.
"We cannot take in one more person," the German magazine quoted Salvini as saying. "On the contrary: we want to send away a few."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, facing domestic pressure on immigration, is seeking deals to send back to Italy and other frontline countries arriving asylum seekers already registered there.
Salvini, asked whether his stance could contribute to toppling Merkel, said that this was not his intention, even though Rome and Berlin were also "far apart" on other issues, from bank reform to Germany's huge trade surplus.
He also voiced irritation that Berlin and Paris appeared to have forged ahead with a list of joint proposals on toughening migration rules ahead of a "mini summit" in Brussels Sunday and a full EU summit late next week.
German newspapers had published what were labelled draft conclusions from the discussions.
Rome said the leaked extracts did not sufficiently address the protection of European borders and focussed excessively on the redistribution of migrants within Europe.
Merkel's government has since said the conclusions were mere talking points. She said there would be no final declaration and acknowledged that the EU would not reach a joint solution any time soon.
Salvini told Der Spiegel that "drafts written in advance by other countries and then sent by mail are not our style of work," adding that France should "stop lecturing us".