Bat­tling the EU over a big-spend­ing bud­get

The Week (US) - - 14 News -

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.

Salvini: Re­fus­ing to bend to Brus­sels

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