Italy and E.U. Reach a Budget Deal, as Populist Plan Runs Into Reality
Officials in Europe, who are eager to prevent more chaos in what many consider the soft southern underbelly of the European Union, characterized the deal as Italy’s recommitment to the bloc and to the euro.
The Italians tried, with some difficulty, to claim they had gotten what they wanted.
In an address to the Italian Parliament, which will have to approve the budget by the end of the year to avoid another round of negotiations with Brussels, Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, said that the “determined” negotiations had paid off. He said the government never did anything to “betray the trust” of its voters.
Instead, speaking over heckles from opposition senators, Mr. Conte, who once said there was no “Plan B” to the original budget proposal, said that the technicians in Brussels had shown how the government actually needed less money “than initially foreseen.”
Contrary to the official statement in Brussels, he said, plans for a universal income and lowering the retirement age would not be delayed, a claim helped by the fact that no official start date for the programs had ever been offered.
“We never backed down on content,” he insisted, adding, that the government “never retreated.”
It sure seemed like they had.
Matteo Salvini, Italy’s powerful deputy prime minister and leader of the League party, had earlier said that he would not budge from the 2.4 percent spending figure, “not even if baby Jesus arrives.” He insisted that he would not allow even “one comma” of the budget to be changed. “Italians come first,” he said at another point. “Italy no longer wants to be a servant to silly rules.”
On Wednesday, he sounded like he suddenly took those rules more seriously. “To have avoided the infringement procedure is the victory of common sense for the good of Italian citizens,” he said.