New Italian Government aims for smoother relations with EU

FILE PHOTO: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte rings the bell for the new cabinet's first meeting at Chigi Palace in Rome, Italy September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ciro de Luca

Italy’s prime minister said on Monday his new coalition combining the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the pro-Europe Democratic Party (PD) would usher in a wave of reforms and avoid the rows that stymied his old government.

The prime minister won the obligatory vote of confidence by 343 to 263 in the 630-seat lower house. He will face another such motion in the upper house Senate on Tuesday, where his coalition will have to govern with a much smaller majority.

In a speech to parliament unveiling his policy priorities, Giuseppe Conte called for smoother relations with the European Union, saying he would work with Brussels to rewrite the bloc’s budget rules and its immigration laws.

“We want to put behind us the din of useless declarations and belligerent, bombastic statements,” Conte, a law professor with no political affiliation, told an often rowdy lower house before winning the vote of confidence in his administration.

“The language of this government will be mild-mannered,” he added, in a swipe at the League’s outspoken leader, Matteo Salvini.

Conte laid out a wide-ranging policy programme, promising expansionary measures to boost the stagnant economy, pledging to head off a big VAT increase set to kick in on Jan. 1 and warning that tax cheats in future would face prison terms.

Conte said he hoped to devise a new policy with Brussels of sharing migrant arrivals around the 28-nation bloc. He also promised a more constructive partnership in trying to revise EU banking norms and loosening budget restraints.

Looking to reset Italy’s rocky EU ties, Conte has entrusted the mainstream PD with the EU affairs ministry and the economy ministry and has also dispatched former PD prime minister Paolo Gentiloni to Brussels as an EU commissioner.

Freed from the shackles of any ties to the eurosceptic League, Conte will fly to Brussels on Wednesday for the first foreign visit of his new premiership. He mentioned the word “Europe” and “European” some 32 times in his 27-page speech.

“I remain firmly convinced … that it is within the confines of the European Union and not outside, that we must work for the good of Italians,” he said.