Italy threatens to veto EU’s long-term budget over migration crisis

Welfare Minister Luigi Di Maio during a press conference after a Council of Minister on the so called 'Dignity Decree' at Chigi Palace in Rome, Italy, 3 July 2018. [Claudio Peri/EPA/EFE]

Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio on Monday (27 August) threatened to veto the European Union’s seven-year budget plan should the bloc not do more to share the burden of migrant arrivals.

“In Europe the music will change,” Di Maio wrote on Facebook less than two days after the country’s latest clash with Brussels over who should take in migrants rescued at sea.

“There’s no dogma over the approval of the multi-year budget for the next seven years, which they would like to rush to approve before the European elections,” he said. “We won’t let them do it, and if the immigration situation does not change between now and the near future, the veto will be certain.”

The EU is in the process of hammering out its new seven-year budget. Di Maio, leader of the anti-system 5-Star Movement, last week threatened to withhold Italy’s EU contributions if the bloc did not agree to take in rescued migrants that the government had blocked on the Diciotti rescue ship in the port of Catania, in Sicily.

Italy to suspend EU funding unless others take in migrants

The European Commission has called a meeting today (25 August) after Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said his party would vote to suspend funding to the EU unless other member states agreed to take in migrants being held on a coastguard ship in Sicily.

Di Maio now seems to have changed tack. Paying to the EU annual budget is a legal obligation whereas the seven-year EU budget is open to negotiations, horse-trading, and veto threats – a method that former UK Prime Minister David Cameron used in the past.

The Commission has made many unsuccessful efforts to convince member states to share the migrant burden with Italy and Greece. Having dropped the ambition to find a permanent solution at 28, the latest effort was to seek ad-hoc troubleshooting at 12, but a meeting in this format last Friday ended without result.

Over the week-end the Diciotti case was solved as a result of efforts by Italy on a bilateral basis. This prompted the other Italian Deputy Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right Lega Nord, to call the EU “filth” and to reiterate threats to stop EU funding.

‘EU is filth’, Salvini lashes out as tensions between Rome and Brussels grow

Although the 150 migrants stranded on the Diciotti rescue ship were able to disembark on Sunday (26 August), Italy’s firebrand Interior Minister Matteo Salvini engaged in another vilification of the EU, calling it “filth” and reiterating threats to stop EU funding.

Di Maio and Salvini are Italy’s strongmen and their influence is bigger than that of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Their threats should be taken seriously. According to opinion polls Salvini in particular has seen his party’s popularity grow from 17.3% to 30% since the March elections, mainly as a result of his anti-immigration rhetoric and his criticism of the EU.

The approval of the long-term EU budget for 2020-2027 before the May 2019 European elections already looks problematic.

Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger has warned that if EU countries fail to agree in the coming months, the budget agreement would be delayed after the May 2019 European elections, which would be detrimental to projects when funding is expected to be increased, such as research, youth programmes etc.

EU budget approval before European elections looking increasingly uncertain

Rotating EU presidency holder Bulgaria admitted yesterday (14 May) there was no certainty that the new long-term EU budget for 2020-2027 could be adopted before next year’s European elections.

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