Italy: Battling the EU over a big-spending budget
The farcical incident in the European Parliament “would have been amusing were it not so serious,” said Cécile Ducourtieux and Jérôme Gautheret in Le Monde (France). It began with European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici announcing at a press conference last month that the European Union had taken the unprecedented step of rejecting Italy’s proposed deficit-busting budget, saying it violated EU fiscal rules and was economically dangerous. As Moscovici left the news conference, a right-wing Italian member of the European Parliament, Angelo Ciocca, snatched the commissioner’s papers and pounded them with his shoe. “I trampled—with a sole made in Italy—the mountain of lies written against our nation,” Ciocca boasted. “These Euroimbeciles have to understand that Italy deserves respect.” It’s hardly what Moscovici meant when he spoke of Rome and Brussels engaging in dialogue to resolve the budget impasse.
The EU can forget about dialogue with Rome, said Ulrich Ladurner in Die Zeit (Germany). Since Italy’s governing coalition of the far-right League and the populist Five Star Movement took office in June, even the mildest criticisms from Brussels have been met with fury. The loudest barks come from the League’s leader, Matteo Salvini, who is deputy prime minister and the government’s driving force. His supporters boast that he “steamrolls” the European Union’s biggest players, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. But how can EU officials negotiate “with politicians who can’t talk without foaming at the mouth?” EU nations that get into financial difficulties usually play for time and resolve the issue quietly, said Andreas Schnauder in Der Standard (Austria). Italy’s behavior—open defiance of budget rules backed by barbed complaints about EU “enslavement” and “market terrorism”—is quite new, and utterly pointless. Whining about the EU’s rules won’t change the facts: Italy’s debt, at $2.6 trillion, is one of the highest in Europe, and the government plans to borrow more to service it. If it goes ahead with its proposed budget, the EU can slap it with a penalty of $3.9 billion and suspend billions of dollars in EU funds.
This budget has exposed the contradiction at the heart of Italy’s ruling coalition, said Alessandro Sallusti in Il Giornale (Italy). The small-business owners and anti-immigrant nationalists who voted for the League were promised tax cuts, while Five Star voters demanded higher welfare spending and a “basic income” for all citizens. No government can satisfy such conflicting goals, so the result is a “ramshackle” mess. Now the whole enterprise may collapse, said L’Opinione delle Libertà (Italy) in an editorial. Already, the two governing parties are sniping at each other in public. “If I governed by myself, I could do things faster,” Salvini snapped last week. Five Star lawmakers, meanwhile, claim that the business-friendly League is blocking their attempts to fight corruption. The likely EU penalty to come “is the sword of Damocles hanging over” this precarious government. ■