January 29, 2016 / 2:21 PM / 2 years ago

Renzi, soothing ties with Merkel, says populism is common enemy

BERLIN (Reuters) - Europe is at a “delicate moment” as it deals with rising populism, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Friday after a meeting with Germany’s Angela Merkel at which he sought to soothe their strained ties.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi address a news conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, January 29, 2016. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Renzi, who has opened up disputes with the European Union on several fronts, said Italy was open to funding its share of EU aid to Turkey to help stem the flow of migrants into Europe - but it first needed clarification on some issues from Brussels.

“I believe that Italy and Germany are united in saying we want more Europe, a stronger Europe, a more efficient Europe,” Renzi said at a joint news conference with Merkel. Earlier this week he told a German newspaper Berlin and Paris could not solve Europe’s migrant crisis without him.

The Italian leader, who blasted Merkel at an EU summit in December over several German policies, on Friday stressed their common values.

“We don’t agree on everything naturally - in particular as far as some opinions go in several political areas - but we believe together that fighting unemployment today in Europe means combatting populism. We have the same enemy: populism.”

Caught in the crossfire between two anti-euro opposition parties in Rome and wrestling with a struggling economy, Renzi has opened disputes with the EU on migration, budget, banking and energy policy.

Merkel, who said the talks were held “in a good European spirit”, stressed the importance of rapidly implementing the EU’s deal with Turkey, saying progress was needed to get a grip on the refugee crisis.

“We spoke about the refugee question of course, on the one hand about the EU-Turkey agenda, which must be implemented urgently because we need progress,” she said, adding that this included the planned 3 billion euros ($3.25 billion) in aid.

Despite being open to providing its share of the aid, which is in exchange for a Turkish commitment to stem the flow of migrants into Europe, Italy has so far blocked it.

Turning to Italy’s drive to get the EU Commission to grant it more fiscal leeway in its 2016 budget, Renzi said Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had been appointed on the condition that EU countries be granted budget flexibility.

“I have not changed my mind on flexibility, I hope that Jean-Claude Juncker has not changed his mind,” he said.

Additional reporting by Steve Scherer and Crispian Balmer in Rome and Joseph Nasr in Berlin; editing by Andrew Roche

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