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Italy, Germany and France vow ‘new impulse’ for EU

The leaders of Germany, France and Italy vowed on Monday "a new impulse" for the EU as it reels from Brexit and told London that the bloc would make no deals before Britain formally decides to leave.

Italy, Germany and France vow 'new impulse' for EU
In a joint statement, Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel and Matteo Renzi have promised to reorder the EU. Photo: John MacDougall/AFP

The EU's three most populous continental nations signalled that the UK must first take the plunge of invoking Article 50 to exit before it can negotiate its future trade and other ties with the bloc.
   
Chancellor Angela Merkel – hosting French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Berlin – said that “we agreed on this, that there will be no informal or formal talks on the exit of Britain until an application has been filed to leave the European Union”.
   
British finance minister George Osborne had said earlier that his country should only activate Article 50 when it has a “clear view” of its future relations with the bloc.
   
Merkel also stressed that “there must be no period of uncertainty” that is prolonged, and that the EU must counter “centrifugal forces” in other EU countries pushing to leave the union.
   
Hollande, somewhat more bluntly, urged Britain to “not waste time” in triggering the process to leave, arguing that it was to all parties' benefit to move forward quickly.
   
“Being responsible means not wasting time — not wasting time in dealing with the question of Britain's departure, not wasting time too in putting in place the new stimulus that we need to give to the European Union, that is to say, the 27 members.”
   
“Because nothing is worse than uncertainty,” he added. “Uncertainty generates often irrational behaviour. Uncertainty also leads financial markets to act irrationally.”

'Delivering prosperity'

In a joint statement the leaders said they “regret that the United Kingdom will no longer be our partner within the European Union” but said confidently that the EU “is strong enough to find the right answers”.
   
On the eve of a Brussels summit, they urged steps among the remaining 27 members to jointly boost cooperation on internal and external security as well as the economy and programmes to help youths.
   
Merkel vowed that the remaining members would push on with the European project, saying that “we will suggest to our (EU) colleagues that we should put in place a new impulse … in the coming months”.
   
She called for unity and urged a new collective push for cooperation in areas that included “defence, growth or jobs and competitiveness”.
   
The focus should be on internal and external security, counter-terrorism and protecting the EU's external borders, she said, adding that “a second focus is on the economy, growth and competitiveness”.
   
Renzi said that “it is clear that we have to respect the sovereign decision of the British people but at the same time, there has to be a strategy for the months to come”.
   
“We are a big family and we need to reassure the members of the family. But there is also a great need to remodel the European project in the coming years… Things need to move forward.”
   
In their joint statement the three leaders said they would push for greater cooperation on security issues, including “developing our European defence and taking necessary engagements on joint operations”.
   
They also said Europe must “keep its promise on delivering prosperity to its citizens”.
   
To do so, eurozone nations should “take new steps if necessary to reinforce growth, competitiveness, employment, and convergence including in the social and fiscal areas”.
   
A key target group would be to reduce massive youth unemployment in several EU nations, they said, stressing that “Europe would not succeed unless it gives hope to its youth”.
   
The proposed reforms would be the subject of a September summit, with a view to the implementing them within six months.

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POLITICS

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Just weeks after going on trial in a case brought by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano was back in court on Wednesday facing allegations of defamation lodged by Meloni's deputy, Matteo Salvini.

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Deputy Prime Minister Salvini, whose far-right League party is a key member of Meloni’s coalition, is suing the journalist for calling him the “minister of the criminal underworld” in a social media post in 2018.

In November, Saviano went on trial in a case brought by Meloni for calling her a “bastard” in 2020 over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

READ ALSO: Press freedom fears as Italian PM Meloni takes Saviano to trial

Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but won September elections on a promise to curb mass migration.

Saviano, known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, regularly clashes with Italy’s far-right and says the trials are an attempt to intimidate him.

He faces up to three years in prison if convicted in either trial.

“I think it is the only case in Western democracies where the executive asks the judiciary to lay down the boundaries within which it is possible to criticise it,” Saviano said in a declaration in court on Wednesday.

He said he was “blatantly the victim of intimidation by lawsuit”, on trial “for making my opinion, my thoughts, public”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about press freedom in Italy

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the suits to be scrapped. Meloni refused in November, despite criticism that her position of power makes it an unfair trial.

Armed guard

Saviano has lived under police protection since revealing the secrets of the Naples mafia in 2006.

But when Salvini was appointed interior minister in a previous government in June 2018, he suggested he might scrap Saviano’s armed guard.

The writer reacted on Facebook, saying Salvini “can be defined ‘the minister of the criminal underworld’,” an expression he said was coined by anti-fascist politician Gaetano Salvemini to describe a political system which exploited voters in Italy’s poorer South.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia author Saviano won’t be ‘intimidated’ by Salvini

He accused Salvini of having profited from votes in Calabria to get elected senator, while failing to denounce the region’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia and focusing instead on seasonal migrants.

Salvini’s team are expected to reject any claim he is soft on the mafia.

Saviano’s lawyer said he will call as a witness the current interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, who at the time was in charge of evaluating the journalist’s police protection.

The next hearing was set for June 1st.

Watchdogs have warned of the widespread use in Italy of SLAPPS, lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists or whistleblowers.

Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with prison sentences from six months to three years, but the country’s highest court has urged lawmakers to rewrite the law, saying jail time for such cases was unconstitutional.

Saviano is also being sued by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano in a civil defamation case brought in 2020, before Sangiuliano joined the cabinet.

A ruling in that case could come in the autumn. If he loses that case Saviano may have to pay up to 50,000 euros in compensation, his lawyer told AFP.

Italy ranked 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, one of the lowest positions in western Europe.

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