EU’s Moscovici ‘hopeful’ Italy can avoid sanctions

France is not receiving favourable treatment, insists EU Commissioner

EU's Moscovici ‘hopeful’ Italy can avoid sanctions
European Commissioner for Economic Affairs Pierre Moscovici. Photo: John Thys/AFP

Rome and Paris are not being held to two different standards, European Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici has reiterated today, saying he was working to avoid Italy being sanctioned over its 2019 budget.

“I am currently working so that Italy is not sanctioned. I am hopeful,” Moscovici said on French radio station RTL.

“We’re working hard with a constructive dialogue so Italy can carry out the policy it wants… but that it does so in respecting the rules” on EU public finances, he added.

The European Commission in October rejected the budget submitted for approval by the Italian coalition government of the far-right League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

The budget would mean an increase in Italy's deficit spending, though it would remain below the EU-mandated limit of 3.0 percent of GDP.

EU officials have said it does not sufficiently tackle Italy's huge debt pile, which stands at 130 percent of GDP.

European Commissioner for Economic Affairs Pierre Moscovici. Photo: Aris Oikonomou/AFP

But since French President Emmanuel Macron's concessions last week to the “yellow vest” protests that will see France's budget blow past the 3.0 percent deficit limit, Italian officials were quick to complain that the rules were not being enforced evenly – something Moscovici has repeatedly denied.

“We are working constructively because, in effect, not only don't I like different standards, I don't like injustice,” Moscovici said, dismissing suggestions that France was receiving favourable treatment while its 2019 public sector deficit is forecast to come in at 3.2 percent compared to the 2.04 percent for Italy.

At the same time, Moscovici, a former French finance minister, explained that a “limited, temporary and exceptional” breach of the 3.0-percent deficit limit was “conceivable”, in reference to the situation in France.

France's deficit finally made it under the EU's deficit cap in 2017, after years of being above the limit.
Macron's government has announced some 10 billion euros in concessions that aim to boost the purchasing power of those worst off.

France's “yellow vest” protesters  have taken aim at French President Emmanuel Macron's liberal economic policies, and have so far forced the French government to pay for an increase in the minimum wage – a potentially costly measure – as well as cancel a planned rise in taxes on petrol and diesel.

'Yellow vest' protesters in Paris. Photo: AFP

One of the reasons Italy's budget includes increased spending is to finance a basic income for the unemployed and those living on low wages.

The government insists it needs to spend big to kick-start a sluggish economy, but Brussels says it will not deliver the growth promised after years of austerity measures and worse still, will only add to Italy's debt mountain.

Seizing on the protests in France, the Italian government said last week that its populist budget was needed to “prevent social unrest” in Italy and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Europe’s austerity-based economic policies have “failed.”

However despite initially saying it wouldn’t move on the budget, the Italian government has softened its stance and has been making amendments.

It said yesterday that Italy has found four billion euros’ worth of savings to stop the European Union from opening disciplinary procedures.
If an agreement is not reached, Italy could find itself the target of an EU excessive deficit procedure, which could ultimately lead to fines of up to 0.2 percent of the nation's GDP.

If an agreement is not reached, Italy could find itself the target of an EU excessive eficit procedure, which could ultimately lead to fines of up to 0.2 percent of the nation's GDP.



Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy’s elections

Scandal-plagued former premier Silvio Berlusconi said he plans to return to Italy's parliament in upcoming elections, almost a decade after being forced out over a conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy's elections

“I think that, in the end, I will be present myself as a candidate for the Senate, so that all these people who asked me will finally be happy,” the 85-year-old billionaire and media mogul told Rai radio on Wednesday.

After helping bring down Prime Minister Mario Draghi last month by withdrawing its support, Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party looks set to return to power in elections on September 25th.

It is part of a right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy, which includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Berlusconi brushed off reports he is worried about the possibility of Meloni – whose motto is “God, country and family” – becoming prime minister.

Noting the agreement between the parties that whoever wins the most votes chooses the prime minister, he said: “If it is Giorgia, I am sure she will prove capable of the difficult task.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

But he urged voters to back his party as the moderate voice in the coalition, emphasising its European, Atlanticist stance.

“Every extra vote in Forza Italia will strengthen the moderate, centrist profile of the coalition,” he said in a separate interview published Wednesday in the Il Giornale newspaper.

League party leader Matteo Salvini (L), Fratelli d’Italia leader Giorgia Meloni and Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi pictured in October 2021. The trio look set to take power following snap elections in September. Photo by CLAUDIO PERI / ANSA / AFP

Berlusconi was Italy’s prime minister three times in the 1990s and 2000s, but has dominated public life for far longer as head of a vast media and sports empire.

The Senate expelled him in November 2013 following his conviction for tax fraud, and he was banned from taking part in a general election for six years.

He was elected to the European Parliament in 2019, however, and threw his hat in the ring earlier this year to become Italy’s president — although his candidacy was predictably short-lived.

Berlusconi remains a hugely controversial figure  in Italy and embroiled in the many legal wrangles that have characterised his long career.

He remains on trial for allegedly paying guests to lie about his notorious “bunga-bunga” sex parties while prime minister.

Berlusconi has also suffered a string of health issues, some related to his hospitalisation for coronavirus in September 2020, after which he said he had almost died.