United against populism for a stronger and more efficient Europe. This small “German” tweet is the only virtual, official result of the meeting between Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Chancellor Angela Merkel, who are far from agreeing on everything, as the President of the European Council claims.
In practice, the “thaw” between Rome and Berlin is partial: yes to the common defense of the Schengen and European quotas for refugees, but no substantial concession on the flexibility of public finances and the €3 billion loan to Turkey. In return, Italy gains its seat back on the European scene (as Renzi wanted) and the blessing of the “new role” by Berlin: “Germany will hold the presidency of the G20 and Italy will preside over the G7,” the chancellor confirms.
Without the military brass band and with a stripped down ceremony is how Merkel welcomed Renzi in Bundeskanzlei at 12:30 p.m. Friday, invited to a “working lunch.” An “intense and friendly” meeting that lasted twice as long as expected (the press conference was delayed for over an hour), a sign of the trouble to smooth the edges.
The German Chancellor “looks forward to Renzi’s ambitious reforms” and there is “full convergence on a European solution to the refugee emergency, funding for those states in the front line of arrivals and fight against the traffickers.” However Mutti reminded Matteo about the six Italian hot spots it agreed to establish (of which only three are operational) and the “urgency of an agreement with Turkey” or the payment of the €280 million charged to Italy for financing Ankara. Renzi took his time and assured: “We agree, but we are waiting to hear from Brussels how the help is intended” or if the “installment” will be spun off from the Stability Pact and charged to the E.U.
The chancellor ignored concerns about the flexibility of Italian public finances: “I’m not meddling: It is the task of the E.U. Commission to interpret the margins,” she said, cutting the topic short, convinced that the boundaries, in any case, remain (only) those provided for in the agreements signed in Brussels.
Then, cunningly, she wished “Italy success on the reforms,” and blamed Renzi for slowing the budget and referred to “problems” with the banks. These, above all, have impressed the chancellor more than the Italian Jobs Act: the stability of credit in Italy is now a German question. On Thursday, the defaults of Etruria, Banca Marche, Chieti and CariFerrara impacted the Frankfurt Stock Exchange and caused the Dax to “collapse” 1.6 percent.
Hence the ”Schäuble help” for Renzi: the Finance Minister has put €2 trillion of German savings (the equivalent of Rome’s public debt) as a ECB security deposit covering the €200 billion of bad credits of the Italian banks. It’s the green light for the bad banks and “the true insurance on Rome’s 10-year bonds,” it is said in Berlin.
Anyway, Renzi’s visit “strengthens the trade relations between the two countries,” Merkel points out, announcing an upcoming bilateral economic conference between the two countries: “It is positive that there is a beginning of recovery in Italy: In the last few months, imports of German products in Italy increased by 7 percent,” gloats the chancellor. On the other hand, one-fifth of Italian goods ends up in Germany; this means €54.9 billion business in 2016, €58.2 in 2017 and €61.6 in 2018. They weigh more than the “staging” (according to Welt) of ‘”exuberant” Italian prime minister denouncing the Franco-German axis and much less of the other strategic fronts on which Berlin does not give up. Above all, the doubling of the Nord Stream gas pipeline in partnership with Russia, entrusted to the “evaluation” of the E.U. Commission and opposed by Italy also in the European Parliament: an unresolved issue in the bilateral summit.
Renzi’s meeting was preceded by a meeting between Merkel and Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Mogherini was received at the chancellery 24 hours before Renzi and celebrated with Mutti and Kofi Annan (former Secretary of the United Nations) the birthday of Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. And the chancellor came to the bilateral meeting with the new “package” on asylum rights: a two-year suspension of family reunification for refugees; the addition of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia to the list of “safe countries”; circulation ban for refugees in Germany and the cost of linguistic integration to be borne by the migrants. It is the bare minimum requested by the European Union and the Social Democratic Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.
Outside the diplomatic frame, the meeting with Renzi was affected by the dark climate on the topic of refugees in Germany. During the night, in Baden-Wurttemberg, xenophobic extremists threw a grenade against a refugee center. It didn’t explode. It was the 1,006th attack against the Asylheim, yet another (real) bomb against Angela’s “welcome policy,” which, according to polls, is opposed by 45 percent of Germans.
Now, after archiving Renzi’s visit, Chancellor Merkel prepares a conference on the crisis in Syria to be held in London on Feb. 4. Table reservations are for Germany, the U.K., Norway and Kuwait. Once again, another decisive summit leaving Italy out.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Your weekly briefing of progressive news.