EU Strikes Back at Italy’s Ruling Populists over Accusations for Genoa Bridge Collapse
The European Commission, the EU executive, has reacted categorically to accusations by Italy’s right-wing populist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini implying that EU fiscal rules may have caused the road bridge collapse in Genoa that killed 39 people.
A 200-meter-long (656-foot) section of the “Morandi” viaduct on the A10 highway in Genoa collapsed on Tuesday, killing and injuring dozens of people, and leaving many homeless.
“If external constraints prevent us from spending to have safe roads and schools, then it really calls into question whether it makes sense to follow these rules,” said Salvini, who is the leader of the far-right populist League party, a partner in the Cabinet of the leftist populist Five Stars Movement.
“There can be no trade-off between fiscal rules and the safety of Italians,” Italy’s Interior Minister argued, seemingly putting the blame for the Genoa tragedy on the EU.
Salvini’s accusations, however, have been disproved by a spokesperson for EC President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Thursday, The Independent reports.
The spokesperson emphasized that the EU had actually officially told Italy to improve its infrastructure, had provided it with billions of development funds, and even signed off a plan specifically designed to better the highways around the affected city of Genoa.
“We think the time has come to make a few things clear. Over the 2014-2020 period Italy is set to receive around EUR 2.5 billion under European structural and investment funds for investment in network infrastructures such as roads or rail,” the spokesperson said.
“In April 2018, the Commission also approved under EU state aid rules an investment plan for Italian motorways which will enable around EUR 8.5 billion of investments to go ahead including in the Genoa region,” the EC official added.
“For the record, under the agreed fiscal rules member states are free to set specific policy priorities, for instance the development and maintenance of infrastructure. In fact, the EU has encouraged investment in infrastructure in Italy,” the spokesperson emphasized.
“The 2018 country-specific recommendations adopted by the Council called on the Italian authorities to better target investments to foster infrastructural development. As President Juncker has stated before, Italy is one of the main beneficiaries of the flexibility within the Stability and Growth Pact. This has allowed Italy to invest and spend much more in recent years,” Juncker’s spokesperson said, referring to EU austerity rules.
Against the backdrop of far-right populist Salvini’s misplaced accusations of the EU, in the wake of the Genoa road bridge collapse it also emerged that the Five Star Movement, had campaigned against improvements to the bridge and described claims it would collapse as a children’s fairy tale.
Beppe Grillo, the outspoken comedian and co-founder of the Five Star Movement, reportedly dismissed warnings about the collapse of the Morandi Bridge as “a little fairy tale.”
“We have been told about the little fairy tale of the imminent collapse of the Morandi Bridge,” Grillo reportedly referred to warnings about the collapse of the bridge on his blog.
The blog post was apparently removed after the collapse of the road bridge in Genoa but a screenshot of the post has been published by Ligurian local daily Il Secolo XIX, The Local Italy reports.
(Banner image: Satellite photo showing the Morandi bridge collapse from EU Earth Observation Program on Twitter)