EU-Turkey €3 billion migrant deal blocked by Italy

Matteo Renzi [European Council]

Italy is blocking a European Union plan to provide Turkey with €3 billion in aid in exchange for a commitment to stem the flow of migrants into Europe, two European officials said yesterday (14 January).

The move marks a further escalation in Italy’s combative position on EU issues. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi blasted German Chancellor Angela Merkel at an EU summit in December over EU policies on energy, banking and migration.

Since then, Italy has reiterated its opposition to the funding of the EU plan to stem migrants coming to Europe from the Middle East and Asia through Turkey, officials said. The plan is strongly backed by Germany, which is the final destination of most.

>> Read: EU and Turkey agree on €3 billion refugee deal

“There is only one member state that still has objections against the funding for Turkey. We do not understand why Italy is blocking it,” a European diplomat said.

Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is expected to raise the issue at today’s meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels, a diplomat said.

The draft plan foresees that one third of the €3 billion should come from the EU budget and the remaining €2 billion from EU states.

EU states gave initial backing to the aid plan at a summit with Turkey in November and the EU summit last month.

“The EU is now seen as backtracking. We need to solve this urgently so we can credibly negotiate with Ankara to stem the flow,” the EU source said.

There was no immediate comment from the Italian government.

The EU is far from satisfied with Turkey’s cooperation in stemming the flow of migrants to Europe, European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said on 7 January.

>> Read: EU ‘long way from satisfied’ with Turkish migrant cooperation

>> Read: Frontex cannot say if Turkey stemmed refugee flow

Italy wants more leeway on deficits

At today’s meeting, finance ministers will pursue talks on how the €2 billion national funding for Turkey would be treated under EU deficit rules. And Italy could well be at the centre of attention.

Italy is currently in talks with the EU Commission on whether it can be granted more fiscal leeway in its 2016 budget. But the European Commission considers Rome has already been given more budget flexibility than any of its partners and Rome should tone down its anti-EU rhetoric.

Pierre Moscovici, the EU’s Economic Affairs Commissioner, said he could “never understand” Italy’s negative approach, considering that the Commission has said it will consider Rome’s requests for budget flexibility even though these go beyond those of most of its peers.

“Despite everything they criticise, and they say ‘we haven’t got enough,’ when they have more than anyone else,” said Moscovici, in unusually direct tone for a European Commissioner.

“It’s fine in terms of rhetoric, but not in terms of reality,” he said, adding that he had “always considered that an attitude of cooperation and compromise is more effective than conflict.”

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