Italian politicians have asked European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen not to interfere in domestic politics after warning that Europe has ‘the tools’ to deal with Italy if things go wrong. “difficult direction”.
In a lecture Thursday at Princeton University, an aide pointed out to von der Leyen that “figures close to Putin” were among the candidates for Sunday’s upcoming legislative elections. “We’ll see,” she replied. “If things go in a difficult direction – and I’ve talked about Hungary and Poland – we have the tools.”
This is a clear reference to the European Commission’s ability to cut funds to member countries when they are found to violate the rule of law. Last week, the Commission proposed to cut the funds allocated to Hungary by 7.5 billion euros.
Von der Leyen’s remark came just a day before the Italian campaign was set to quiet down for the weekend and angered several candidates on their home stretch.
“What is a threat?” This is shameful arrogance,” tweeted Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s far-right League party. He asked von der Leyen to “respect the free, democratic and sovereign vote of the Italian people”.
He also said on Italian television that “if someone in Brussels is thinking of cutting the funds that belong to Italy, because the League wins the elections, then we have to rethink this Europe”, adding that “it’s institutional bullying”.
ELECTION TO THE NATIONAL PARLIAMENT OF ITALY POLL OF POLLS
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Italy is the biggest beneficiary of the Next Generation EU fund, a set of grants and loans to address economic challenges after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even Matteo Renzi, the liberal and pro-EU leader of the Italia Viva party, asked von der Leyen “not to get into Italian affairs in the least”.
“I’m sure she will clarify her sentence,” said a more lenient Enrico Letta, who leads the center-left Democratic Party. He assured Italian voters that “there is no blackmail from the EU”.