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Italy PM calls for EU funding sanctions over refugees

October 12, 2016

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has said that EU states that continue to refuse to take in refugees to help frontline countries in Europe's migration crisis should have their EU funding cut.

Italien Marine-Schiff Vega mit 600 Flüchtlingen
The Italian Navy ship "Vega" arrives in Calabria with 600 refugees on board in May 2016Image: Getty Images/AFP/G. Isolino

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has called for the European Union (EU) to cut funding to member states that refuse to take in refugees. His call comes ahead of next week's EU summit meeting in Brussels, where long-term budget planning will be on the agenda.

Italy and to a lesser extent Greece, are on the front lines of the EU's ongoing refugee crisis. Under the EU's quota plan nearly 40,000 refugees in Italy are supposed to be taken in by fellow EU-member states but so far only 1,300 have been relocated.

Italien Pressekonferenz in Rom Ein Monat nach dem Erdbeben Mittelitalien Matteo Renzi Roma 23 09 2016 Palazzo Chigi
Italian Prime Minister Matteo RenziImage: Imago/Insidefoto

To date, the states refusing to take in their fair share of refugees have been the Central European countries of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.

These members of the Visegrad alliance of central European states joined the EU in 2004 - 15 years after revolutions across Eastern Europe brought about the fall of communism across the region. They were demonstrably poorer than their Western neighbors. As a result, they have benefitted mightily from the EU's distribution of development aid to its poorer member states. 

Renzi said the refusal of states to take in refugees was placing an added financial burden on front line countries such as his. "The positive aspects of belonging to the EU must be balanced by the duties that come with membership," Renzi said.

Renzi told the Italian parliament that he was prepared to press the issue at next week's EU summit meeting.

"It's necessary that Italy be the promoter of a very tough position toward those countries that have received a lot of money for belonging to the bloc to re-launch their territories, and who are shirking their commitments to relocate immigrants," Renzi said. 

Budget deficits

 Renzi also chafed over the EU rules on budget discipline for member states, referring to the current agreement that member states limit their 2017 budget deficits to 1.8 percent of GDP.  He called it "unacceptable" for national governments to blindly follow them.

"Can a country like ours...bow to bureaucratic, theoretical rules, questionably written and which anyone can interpret as they wish, and not look at the needs of its citizens?" Renzi asked. "It is unacceptable for anyone to even think about it, "he added.

Due to the added financial burden of looking after so many refugees Italy is planning a 24.5 billion euro ($27 billion) budget, according to Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan. It is expected to push next year's deficit to 2.4 per cent of GDP, well beyond the 1.8 per cent agreed earlier this year with Brussels.

The Italian leader said it was wrong to fret over what EU institutions said:  "while other countries are much more used to receive and welcome suggestions and then do as they best see fit, without duly triggering a national psychodrama."

bik/jm (Reuters, dpa)