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25th May 2019

Italy in row with EU on €3bn Turkey fund

  • Juncker on Renzi's criticism: "I keep my bitterness, which is big, in my pocket." (Photo: Consillium)

Relations between Italy and the EU took a sour turn Friday (15 January), as Italy raised objections to the EU's €3 billion plan for Turkey and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker accused the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, of "demonising" the EU.

"The mood between Italy and the rest of the EU, and the commission in particular is not the best ever," Juncker said at a press conference at the commission.

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The commission chief said that Renzi "vilifies and criticises the commission on every street corner."

"I don't understand why he is doing this," he said.

"The commission is being insulted. I grin and bear it, I put my resentment and my irritation, which is significant, in my pocket," he added. "But people should stop thinking that I'm naive. I am not."

The latest reason for Juncker's displeasure with Renzi is Italy's objections over the financing of a plan to help refugees in Turkey. The so-called refugee facility is part of a wider EU-Turkey action plan to reduce the number of migrants coming to Europe.

"I struggle to understand Italy's amazing reservation about the €3 billion to Turkey because the money is not going to Turkey but is for Syrian refugees in Turkey," Juncker said.

"These €3 billion are a question of credibility for the EU," he said.

Juncker's accusations were rebuked by the Italian finance minister, Pier Carlo Padoan, after a ministers' council across the street.

"Italy is not blocking anything," he told reporters, before explaining that Italy wants the money for the plan to come from the EU budget.

According to the plan announced in October, only €500 million will come from the EU budget, with the remaining €2.5 billion covered by the member states.

"We think that there is still space in the budget" to cover the €3-billion need "without necessarily requesting member states for additional contributions," he said.

Italy is also asking more details about the use of the EU money by Turkey. It wants to know "to what purpose, to which projects, and which sequencing" the funds will go.

"We need to be clear about the strategy that is underpinning those resources," Padoan said.

According to sources, at the last EU summit in December Renzi asked about the exact breakdown of the refugee facility and whether national contributions would be taken into account when the commission grants budget flexibility to member states.

Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselblomen, who chaired the meeting Friday, said he hoped that Italy would lift its objections "very very soon".

"There was a very strong feeling that we need this facility, we need it very quickly," he said at a press conference.

The discussion about the Turkey fund comes amid a series of swings at EU policies from Renzi.

In an interview with the Financial Times after the last EU summit, he said "Europe has to serve all 28 countries, not just one,” referring to Germany and EU austerity policies.

"I know that those who have been in the front line of being the faithful allies of the politics of rigour without growth have lost their jobs," he said after Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy won the election, but got no majority to govern.

In December, Renzi also tried to force a discussion on EU sanctions on Russia at the EU summit and raised objections to the Nord Stream II gas pipeline.

More recently, after the only Italian member of Juncker's cabinet quit and was replaced by a Briton, Rome said the decision was "unacceptable".

"Starting 2016 without an Italian will certainly not facilitate the relationships with Italy," said the Italian under-secretary for Europe, Sandro Gozi.

Speaking after Juncker's jab at Renzi Friday, finance minister Padoan tried to calm things down.


"There is no intent to offend on the part of the Italian government, but a constructive attitude," he said.

EU failing to deliver on migration plans

Three out of 11 hotspots in place. Two hundred and seventy people out of 160,000 relocated: Last year's EU promises to limit and better manage migration flows yet to materialise.

Turkish PM in Berlin to ask for more EU money

Turkey wants more EU money to stem the flow of refugees, as its PM visits Berlin. But the EU can't agree how to fund an earlier pledge of €3bn, causing frustration.

EU finalises €3bn fund for Turkey refugees

Projects can start in early 2016 after Italy dropped objections. Germany to contribute the most, after the majority of the 1 million EU-bound migrants went there last year.

Analysis

Renzi plots EU collision course

Italy's prime minister Matteo Renzi has stepped up his fiery anti-EU rhetoric. This may boost his support at home, but it may eventually backfire.

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