January 28, 2016 / 9:09 AM / 2 years ago

Germany, France can't solve refugee issue without me: Italy PM

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi gestures as he speaks at the Senate in Rome, January 27, 2016.Remo Casilli

BERLIN (Reuters) - It is unacceptable for German Chancellor Angela Merkel to cut deals on Europe's refugee crisis with French President Francois Hollande and the head of the European Commission without involving Italy, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said.

Renzi, whose country is on the frontline of Europe's refugee crisis, has stepped up his criticism of the EU on several fronts as he wrestles with Italy's stubbornly low economic growth after three years of recession.

Speaking ahead of a meeting with Merkel in Berlin on Friday, Renzi told Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily he would be delighted if the German chancellor and Hollande could solve all Europe's problems.

"But that is generally not the case," he said in an interview published in the paper's Thursday edition.

"If we're looking for a joint European strategy to solve the refugee question, it can't be sufficient for Angela to first call Hollande and then EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and that I learn of the result in the press," he added.

More than one million migrants have reached Europe over the past year, many of them fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Africa and elsewhere. The crisis has strained relations between EU member states and tested their commitment to Europe's open-borders Schengen agreement.

Renzi recently rejected calls by Juncker, the head of the bloc's executive, to tone down his criticism of EU policies on migration and also on banking and the budget.

In a more positive signal for bilateral relations between Berlin and Rome, Renzi said he supported an idea floated by German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel to cut development aid to north African countries that are not willing to take back citizens whose asylum applications were rejected.

"Those that do not do so don't get money from the international community," Renzi said.

Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Gareth Jones

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