- Italian premier says proposed changes `a good compromise'
- Leaving the EU would be `terrible for the U.K.' Renzi says
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is betting on David Cameron and sees European Union leaders reaching an anti-“Brexit” deal at next week’s summit.
In his first reaction to a proposed agreement struck between the EU and Cameron designed to stop Britain from leaving the 28-nation bloc, Renzi said that it was his duty to back the British premier since Brexit “would be terrible for the U.K.” The two leaders spoke Monday on the phone about reform of the EU.
“I see a deal at the February 18-19 summit,” Renzi said in an interview with Bloomberg in Rome. “I am betting on David. We cannot permit that the lack of an agreement causes Brexit.”
Cameron is seeking the backing of EU leaders at the summit for proposals by EU President Donald Tusk offering Britain a four-year “emergency brake” on welfare for new migrants from the EU, safeguards to shield the U.K. financial system from interference by euro-area regulators and more powers for national parliaments.
“I believe it is my duty to support David,” Renzi said. “I think we will achieve a good compromise. The letter sent by Tusk is a good compromise. I think it is a very important change for the EU, David obtained something.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will also back Cameron, according to Renzi. “Angela will commit to help David, she is a leader and the referendum is risky but it is a step in the right direction,” Renzi said during the interview on Monday.
Renzi, who has confronted both Brussels and Merkel with a demand for a swing away from austerity to growth, as well as budget flexibility for spending on migrants, called for discussions during the referendum and afterwards to “stress an economic agenda for growth and to cut bureaucracy” at the heart of the EU. “If Europe does not change its vision, its strategy, Europe is finished,” he added.
In an attempt to push for reform, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni was scheduled to host a meeting in Rome on Tuesday with his counterparts from the five other founding nations -- France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands -- that created the European Coal and Steel Community, a precursor to the EU.
After meeting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague last week, Renzi said the two were “in agreement on the priorities for Europe, on the need for growth.”
Renzi, whose country has with Greece borne the brunt of the biggest refugee crisis since the end of World War II, said he sees the issue dominating the EU’s agenda for the next year.
“I am sure that migration will be the key problem for Europe for the next 12 months,” Renzi said. “We need an agreement with African nations on returns, we need to develop infrastructure there, invest there,” he said in a reference to failed attempts to ensure that migrants not granted refugee status return home.
Italy is concerned that some EU countries could bury passport-free travel in the Schengen zone to stop flows of migrants. “Without Schengen, the European identity will be jeopardized,” Renzi said. “I’m worried about the possible end of Schengen.”