Italy accuses European Commission of fanning domestic conflict

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The Italian government accused the European Commission late Friday of intervening in a domestic political issue that has “no basis in reality,” signaling a major escalation of a row over how Rome is handling EU funding.

The spat centers on Italy’s decision to strip the country’s court of auditors of oversight of its Covid recovery plan, which has been beset by delays, false-starts and disagreements with Brussels. The Commission said earlier in the day that it was monitoring the situation “very carefully.” 

In an eight-point statement, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s office said the Commission was “fueling an exploitative politicized controversy with no basis in reality.”

POLITICO reports that a document it has seen, said the soaring cost of raw materials and administrative delays have put Meloni’s government at risk of missing a string of targets needed to get its hands on EU money meant to fire up economies after the Covid pandemic.

The bloc’s €750 billion recovery fund, agreed in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, was seen as a huge step for the EU because it broke its longstanding taboo of national governments pooling debt. Since then, as economies started to get back on their feet, Russia’s war in Ukraine has created new problems, including inflation rates not seen for a generation. It peaked at 10.6 percent in the eurozone in October.  

According to the document drafted in Rome, Italy – which as the biggest recipient of EU recovery fund cash is seen as a yardstick of the landmark plan’s success – will miss a major June deadline, potentially postponing the next release of funding.

In part, the government report blames a “radical” change in global conditions, citing “fiery inflation,” blocked supply chains, and an “exponential” increase in the cost of raw materials that in some cases means previously identified projects “were no longer attractive,” leaving “tenders deserted”.

The country has already fallen behind schedule, with a payment of €‎19 billion that Rome requested late last year still being scrutinized by Brussels, despite Finance Minister Giancarlo Giorgetti saying in late April that it would be released “within hours.”

A Commission spokesperson said the Italian recovery and resilience plan was “now entering a crucial phase,” adding that “effective governance and a strong administrative capacity, at all levels, are essential to ensure the swift implementation of the many crucial investments foreseen in the plan.”

After taking power in November, Meloni’s government asked for a modification of the plan in the wake of the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine. The Commission agreed to allow states to rewrite plans to incorporate Repower EU measures reducing dependence on Russian fossil fuels.

The government pointed the finger at delays accumulated under the previous government, an overly fragmented plan with “a myriad” of 76,000 projects worth less than €70,000, a lack of capacity by local administrations to collect and input data for monitoring, the tight timeline with projects due in 2026, and the labor market.

Italy argues that it deserves margins of flexibility as its plan is much bigger than others with 527 milestones and targets when France and Germany have only 304 between them, it points out, and 20 percent of Italy’s assessments are results-based, more than many other member states.

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