Italy’s newspapers warn of Russian ‘interference’ in election

Italy's main newspapers printed front-page warnings on Friday of alleged Russian interference in the upcoming election, after Russia's former president urged Europeans to "punish" their governments.

Italy's newspapers warn of Russian 'interference' in election
Italy's League party leader Matteo Salvini, known for his admiration of Vladimir Putin, said Russia has no influence on Italy's elections. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Leading newspapers Repubblica and Il Messaggero published front pages warning of Russian “interference” on Friday, while the Corriere della Sera said Russia was “agitating” political waters ahead of the vote.

The headlines came after former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday called for European voters to be “not only outraged at the actions of their governments… but to hold them to account and punish them for their obvious stupidity”.

READ ALSO: Italy’s Salvini questioned over Russia ties ahead of election campaign

“Act, European neighbours! Don’t remain silent! Demand accountability!” he said on Telegram.

The government of outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, providing Kyiv with military and humanitarian support.

But that support could shift with the likely victory of a right-wing alliance in general elections on September 25th.

Two of the three major parties in the right-wing coalition set to take power are known for their staunch support of Russia.

While Giorgia Meloni has said her frontrunning Brothers of Italy party stands with Ukraine, Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia have long nurtured ties with Russia and its President Vladimir Putin.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio accused Salvini and other leaders of failing to condemn what he said was clear Russian interference.

READ ALSO: Why does Italy have so many political parties?

Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni (L) is tipped to become Italy’s next prime minister as part of a strong coalition with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italy and Matteo Salvini’s League. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

The head of Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD), Enrico Letta, said Moscow was attempting to “change Italian foreign policy, which since the beginning has been very clearly on the side of the European Union and NATO”.

Letta also called for Salvini’s League to break off a cooperation pact it signed with Putin’s United Russia party in 2017.

Salvini, who has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face, defended himself on Friday, saying he had “not been to Russia for years”.

“Russia does not have the slightest influence on the Italian elections,” he told journalists in Milan.

READ ALSO: Berlusconi’s bad break-up with Putin reveals strained Italy-Russia ties

Medvedev, who was Putin’s stand-in president between 2008 and 2012, is now deputy head of the Security Council, but is widely believed to have little influence on Russian politics.

Allegations of meddling by Moscow in Italy are not new.

In July, Russia rejected previous accusations of election interference in Italy’s election campaign, which Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said were nothing more than a “myth”.

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EXPLAINED: Why people in Italy might have to carry more cash from now on

Under Italy’s new budget law, retailers will no longer be fined for refusing card payments on amounts lower than €30 – a controversial move that is expected to have a knock-on effect for shoppers.

EXPLAINED: Why people in Italy might have to carry more cash from now on

Italy’s new budget bill, whose full text was made available to the media on Wednesday, is set to add yet another controversial chapter to the country’s long and troubled history of card payment laws.

According to a clause included in the 2023 budget law, fines for retailers refusing card payments on amounts lower than €30 will now be suspended until at least June 2023.

As set out by the bill, the six-month suspension will allow the newly created Ministry of Enterprises and Made in Italy to “establish new exemption criteria” and “guarantee the proportionality of the given penalties”. 

READ ALSO: Key points: What Italy’s new budget law means for you 

And, though it isn’t yet clear what new exemptions the government is currently considering nor what exactly is meant by “proportionality”, what’s certain is that residents will now have to repopulate their pockets with some good old banknotes because businesses – from taxi drivers to cafes and bars might not accept card payments for small amounts.

Fines for businesses caught refusing card payments had been introduced by Draghi’s administration back in June 2022, with retailers liable to pay “a €30 administrative fee plus four percent of the value of the transaction previously denied”, regardless of the amount owed by the customer. 

Euro banknotes in a wallet

Under Italy’s new budget law, retailers will no longer be forced to accept card payments for transactions under €30. Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

But, the measure had quickly sparked outrage among retailers, who lamented having to pay hefty bank commissions on every electronic transaction – some business owners even went as far as openly defying the law and organised themselves into a No-Pos Committee (Comitato No Pos). 

Given the latest developments, it seems like their efforts might just have paid off. 

But, while many business owners will surely be happy with the suspension, others across the country have already raised doubt about the potential ripple effects of the government’s move.

Aside from shoppers having to begrudgingly carry more cash than they’re currently used to, many political commentators are warning that the suspension might be a “gift to tax dodgers” in a country where, according to the latest available estimates, tax evasion costs state coffers nearly €90 billion a year.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What’s changing under Italy’s post-pandemic recovery plan? 

It’s also worth noting that the introduction of fines for businesses refusing card payments was one of the financial objectives set out within Italy’s Recovery Plan (PNRR), which expressly refers to the fight against tax evasion as one of the country’s most urgent priorities. 

It is then likely that the new cabinet will at some point have to answer for the latest U-turn on Recovery Plan policies in front of the EU Commission.