Tuesday

31st May 2016

Italy and Germany share 'federalist vocation'

Italy's new Prime Minister Enrico Letta went to Berlin for political talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday (30 April) just hours after being confirmed by the Italian Senate.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, the two tried to downplay their divergences over European economic policy.

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  • Rome is seeking a softer stance on austerity (Photo: Bundesregierung/Denzel)

Merkel repeated several times that "solid public finances" and growth are two sides of the same coin.

"We have to free ourselves from this misconception that growth and budget consolidation are opposed. Solid public finances are a precondition for growth. And growth is not only the state giving money, but it's creating conditions for small and medium enterprises to feel at home, to be able to invest and open up jobs. And for that we need structural reforms, good schools and universities, investments in research," said the Chancellor.

She also tried to show sympathy for the millions of unemployed people in southern European countries.

"Budget deficit figures are of course important, but we must make politics for the people, to stimulate investments, to create more jobs," she said.

For his part, Letta, who was appointed as head of a grand coalition including the centre-right led by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, gave assurances that Italy was not going to steer away from the EU deficit and debt rules.

But the centre-left politician warned that the message given by Italian voters may be replicated in other countries.

"If Europe stands only for negative news, for austerity, then we'll see more of these movements against Europe. We need to work on Europe as a generator of good news, of growth," he noted.

Letta said both he and his government are "profoundly pro-European."

"In the past five years of crisis we did not find sufficient solutions because there was not enough Europe. This is my objective - and also that of Germany, because both our countries have a federalist vocation. Europe always advanced when Italy and Germany worked together," he said.

In view of the upcoming Italian EU presidency in the second half of 2014, Letta says he wants to see Europe reach its four goals of a banking union, a fiscal and economic union, as well as a political union.

"If we reached these objectives, we could solve our domestic problems much easier," he said.

Asked if he will deliver on Berlusconi's campaign promise that if in government, his party will eradicate a property tax introduced last year, Letta said these are "internal matters."

"We will stick to our commitments but what taxes we impose is our domestic choice," he said.

The new Italian leader will also travel to Brussels and Paris this week. Industry minister Flavio Zanonato said Letta's aim is to "renegotiate" EU rules on debt and deficit, so that investment spending is exempted from the overall thresholds.

Former prime minister Mario Monti tried for the last two years to get this introduced, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

Finance ministers baulk at tax-avoidance rules

Member states will discuss again in June a proposed directive to outlaw practices used by large companies to avoid paying taxes. Meanwhile, the European Parliament makes progress on its probe of Panama Papers.

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