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23rd Mar 2019

Italy's M5S to unveil new EU group in January

  • Di Maio (c): The M5S-led group would try to pull in anti-establishment voters who were "disappointed by the right and left" (Photo: RevolWeb/Flickr)

Italy's 5 Star Movement (M5S) is to launch a new pro-European, but anti-establishment political group in January.

Its initiative could weaken far-right forces in European Parliament (EP) elections in May.

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But it could cause other problems for EU institutions, with the party pledging an "earthquake" to shake the bloc's "austere" fiscal rules.

"M5S will be the promoter of a new parliamentary group to bring forward a different Europe", the party's leader and Italian deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio told the RAI 3 broadcaster on Monday (22 October).

"We're thinking of putting out a manifesto in January to bring together new forces that are emerging everywhere," he said.

Di Maio, whose party governs Italy in a coalition with the far-right League party, distanced himself from his partner in Rome.

"It [the new group] will have nothing to do with populist and sovereigntist forces," Di Maio said.

The M5S-led group would try to pull in anti-establishment voters who were "disappointed by the right and left," he said.

It would position itself against "the traditional parties like the EPP [a centre-right bloc] and PSE [the centre-left]", Di Maio noted, but also against "the right-wing, where Salvini will go", he said, referring to Matteo Salvini, the League party leader, his coalition partner.

Salvini has, in the past, spoken of Italy's euro exit.

He also aims to create a new far-right axis in the EU elections together with Hungary's illiberal government, which could block EP lawmaking.

But Di Maio signalled firm support for the European project.

"Italy does not intend to leave the euro," he said. "As long as I remain a minister of government, I will always guarantee that Italy remains in the euro and in Europe," he said.

The talk of Italy's eurozone future comes amid a clash between Rome and the European Commission on spending rules.

Moment of truth

The 28 commissioners will decide, on Tuesday, whether to request amendments to Italy's draft budget.

It would be the first time that the EU executive used its new powers to do so, risking a Di Maio and Salvini backlash.

But "the European Commission must reject Italy's budget" unless Rome corrected its own plan, Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who holds the EU presidency, said on Monday.

Italy's welfare splurge goes against EU targets to bring down its deficit and its debt mountain, which is 130 percent bigger than its economic output - more than twice the EU limit, and second only to Greece.

Its finance minister, Giovanni Tria, promised Rome would not spend a cent more than it had promised.

"If the deficit-GDP ratio and the debt-GDP ratio do not evolve in line with the plan, the government commits itself to intervene," he said on Monday.

That appeared to be enough for an amicable deal with the EU despite Austria's statement, Mario Centeno, the Portuguese finance minister who heads the eurogroup, the single currency's political club, said.

"That [a deal] is what I expect," he told the Reuters news agency also on Monday.

Drama

"I would be very surprised if one [Italian] budget caused drama within the eurozone and that its institutions were unable to manage this," Centeno said.

"The European Commission does not want a crisis between Brussels and Rome," EU finance commissioner Pierre Moscovici told the France Inter broadcaster also on Monday.

"Italy's place is at the centre of the eurozone," he said.

If M5S' new group poached MEPs from the far right and if Italy avoided an EU budget clash, that would bode well for Europe's fortunes in the coming years.

But Di Maio also pledged to wage war against German and EU commission-led austerity after next May's vote.

Earthquake

"There's one certainty in the European elections and that is that those people now in the [EU] commission will no longer be there afterward," he told RAI 3.

"As there has been a positive earthquake in Italy, the peoples of Europe will create another positive political earthquake that will change the balance of power in the European Parliament and the European institutions ... [to] put citizens' rights at the centre," he said.

Europeans' welfare was more important to M5S than debt and deficit figures, Di Maio noted.

"People have become tired of austerity", he said.

EU leaders worried about Italy's budget

Some EU leaders warned that Italy's plan to boost its budget spending despite the second largest debt in the eurozone, could hamper efforts to reform the single currency's framework.

EU commission rejects Italy's budget plans

The EU executive has asked Italy to resubmit its budget in an unprecedented rebuke, while warning Rome that public debt was the "enemy of the people".

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