ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Friday accused France and Germany of using empty pro-European rhetoric while pursuing their national interests on areas from immigration to industry and international diplomacy.
In a hard-hitting interview in daily Corriere della Sera, Conte said Italy was no longer prepared to be treated as a “poor relation” while the EU’s largest states tried to increase their power and influence at the expense of real European integration.
“They are only thinking of their national interests,” Conte said, taking particular offence at a bilateral treaty signed this week in Aachen which committed to supporting Germany’s bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
“They are taking us for a ride,” Conte said, arguing that there had been a broad agreement since the early 1990s that the seat at the U.N. should go to the EU as a whole, rather than to Germany.
“The truth is that we have caught France and Germany with their hand in the cookie jar,” Conte said.
Italy’s coalition parties, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the right-wing League, have repeatedly attacked French President Emmanuel Macron in recent weeks, accusing Paris of impoverishing Africa and fuelling migration across the Mediterranean towards Italy.
Conte, a former academic with no party affiliation, is normally seen as a moderate, mediating figure, but he warned France and Germany not to try to isolate Italy.
“Certainly our allies cannot believe that we will sit silently at the table to sign off on decisions taken by others,” he said. “Why should I take part in a summit if they have already decided everything?”
French and German “European rhetoric” disguised their defence of national interests in finance and industry, he said, citing a case this month in which the two countries moved to block an Italian shipbuilder’s bid to take over a French rival.
“We have to say these things out loud. If we don’t intervene we will have a historic responsibility for having remained silent,” Conte said.
With opinion polls showing about 60 percent of Italians back his administration, “no other government in Europe has the support we have,” Conte said, adding that he would “not accept the idea that we should behave like poor relations”.
“Maybe we have to start speaking more frankly, all of us, and to say that at this point Europe is a bit naked. The empty European rhetoric is no longer sufficient,” he said.
Reporting by Gavin Jones and Stephen Jewkes; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Crispian Balmer