December 18, 2015 / 5:28 PM / 3 years ago

Italy's Renzi blasts German policies at EU summit

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi openly attacked German policies at a European Union summit on Friday, criticizing Berlin’s stance on banking, energy, migration and Greece.

Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi leaves a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, December 18, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

The litany of complaints, in comments to reporters in Brussels, was a sign of how the crises confronting the 28-nation EU have deepened tensions between its members.

Italy, a frontline state in the migration crisis, has become increasingly frustrated with the bloc’s response. It is also critical of new rules to increase the euro zone’s financial stability, another area where Germany has played a prominent role.

“Portraying Germany as a lifesaver for the European economy is not a shared view,” Renzi told a news conference. He raised concerns about the sale to German airport operator Fraport of 14 Greek regional airports in the first big privatization by the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Under pressure at home over the rescue of four small banks in which thousands of small Italian investors lost their savings, Renzi turned his fire on Germany’s financial system with an unprecedented attack on its savings and cooperative banks.

“The health of Italian banks is today better than Germany’s, not only because Intesa San Paolo, the biggest in Italy, has a capitalization twice as large as Deutsche Bank, Germany’s first, but also because of German territorial banks, which are out of the European Central Bank control, a system that personally if I were a German administrator I would be very worried about,” Renzi said.

Intesa’s market capitalization, at 52.5 billion euros ($56.9 billion), is in fact about 1.7 times larger than Deutsche’s.

The row on banks is linked to a plan, backed by Italy and EU officials, to introduce a European deposit insurance scheme, but opposed by Germany on the grounds that it would impose a disproportionate cost on its own lenders.

At the summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel blocked a joint statement pledging rapid progress on this issue.

“It is normal to have different opinions from time to time. It is not the first time,” Merkel said after the meeting, playing down the impact of the row.

In the migration crisis, critics have accused Rome of failing to register people arriving from North Africa by sea and allowing them to move on freely to other countries in Europe’s border-free Schengen area.

“It’s Europe that is not compliant, not Italy,” Renzi retorted. He said Italy was now fingerprinting the majority of migrants, while a plan to help his country and transfer asylum seekers to Germany and other north European countries had so far been a failure.

Renzi also assailed Berlin’s plans to double the Nord Stream pipeline which would bring more Russian gas directly to Germany, a plan that follows the failure of the South Stream project aimed at connecting Russia’s gas fields to Southern Europe.

“It left a dubious taste that while last year South Stream was blocked ... now there is a plan to double Nord Stream without any discussion. That’s why I asked for a debate,” Renzi said.

Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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