Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said on November 18 that the upcoming European Parliamentary elections in May will help his country resolve the budget battles with Brussels.
Last month, the European Commission rejected Italy’s 2019 budget, saying it flouted a commitment to lower the deficit and did not guarantee a reduction in the debt, the second highest in the euro zone as a proportion of GDP.
Italy’s coalition, comprising the anti-establishment 5-Star-Movement and far-right League, has refused to change the main points of the budget.
In an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera daily, Di Maio said he was confident that Rome and Brussels could avoid a collision, predicting that the Commission would take a different approach after May’s elections which might boost anti-austerity parties.
“…citizens will vote in the European elections and will cause a big shake up,” said Di Maio, who is also leader of the 5-Star. “We are ready to discuss things around a table, but they cannot ask us to massacre Italians.”
As reported by the Reuters news agency, Di Maio reiterated that the government was willing to sell real estate assets, reduce waste and introduce safeguard clauses to ensure the deficit will not exceed the target of 2.4% of output in 2019. But he said: “The main reforms of the budget must remain in place”.
The European Commission is expected to start disciplinary steps against Rome, a procedure which could eventually end in unprecedented fines for Italy, reported Reuters.
In a separate report, Bloomberg noted concerns expressed by European Central Bank President Mario Draghi over the widening spread between Italian and German bunds and over the size of Italian debt. According to Di Maio, these were “legitimate”.
Those worries were the reason for Italian officials to seek “another recipe,” he said. “With our recipe we are trying to meet Draghi’s objective: if we manage to lower debt, we’ll also manage to reassure the markets.”
The Italian news agency ANSA also quoted Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini as saying that Italian people would not accept it if the European Commission imposed penalties over the government’s budget plan for 2019.
“They want to penalise us, but this will end up being more damaging to the EU than to us,” League party leader Salvini told some Italian dailies. “They are crazy if they really do open an infringement procedure. Sixty million Italians would rise up.”