Anger in Italy as EU officials 'laugh at Renzi'

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2014 5:44 AM

ROME (Reuters) - Italian newspapers reacted angrily on Friday after senior European officials exchanged ironic smiles at a Brussels news conference when asked if Rome may be granted extra flexibility on its budget targets.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy told journalists in the Belgian capital that all countries would have to respect budget commitments.

They appeared to laugh slightly when asked if there could be room for Italy to fund growth-creation measures through deficit spending.

"No those smiles will not do at all," the Corriere della Sera, Italy's most influential daily, said on a front page editorial. "They are a gratuitous slap in the face. An offence that Italy does not deserve."

Rome daily Il Messaggero carried a similar front page editorial. "Enough. Enough with the laughter. Enough with the superiority complex towards Italy," it said.

"It has never been less justified, especially when you consider the status of the individuals who are laughing at us."

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has promised that Italy, struggling to emerge from its worst postwar recession with unemployment at record levels, will meet all its budget commitments, including keeping its deficit under the EU cap of 3 percent of gross domestic product.

BERLIN, BRUSSELS AND BERLUSCONI

Renzi has pledged a series of measures including billions of euros in spending programs and tax cuts to revive growth that will push the deficit up to just within the limits.

He has also made clear he believes the budget restrictions should be overhauled, describing the 3 percent limit this week as "anachronistic".

The smiles by Barroso and Van Rompuy recalled a similar exchange of looks between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former French President Nicholas Sarkozy at a European Council meeting in 2011 in response to a question about ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

"They're laughing at Renzi too," Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by the Berlusconi family, headlined its front page.

Berlusconi's center-right party has never forgotten the perceived slight and has brought it up repeatedly since then to support its argument that the billionaire media magnate was forced from office at the height of the eurozone debt crisis in 2011 by pressure from Berlin and Brussels.

On Thursday, Sandro Gozi, the undersecretary in charge of European Union Affairs, said that Italy wanted to see a discussion about granting extra room for manoeuvre on deficits to fund spending on infrastructure.

Italy's public debt is one of the highest in the euro zone at around 133 percent of GDP, but its deficit is within the limits of the Stability and Growth Pact and it runs a primary surplus, before interest rate payments.

(Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni and James Mackenzie; Editing by Tom Heneghan)