Italy seeking respect after EU rejects its budget

(Reuters) – The European Commission takes its first step today towards disciplining Italy over its draft 2019 budget, backed by euro zone governments worried that Rome’s borrow-and-spend plans could trigger another debt crisis that would hurt them all.

Alongside the publication around 1100 GMT of its views on the draft budgets of all 19 euro zone countries, it will issue a separate statement that Italy is in breach of EU law that requires a country to bring down its public debt once it is higher than 60 percent of gross domestic product (Italy’s is 131 percent).

Memories of the euro zone debt crisis loom large: other EU capitals argue it showed the need to get public finances in order; Rome insists it would be crazy to embark on austerity when the economy needs a lift.

In what is being read as an attempt to win over some of May’s hard Brexit critics, Downing Street said yesterday it was open to looking at their proposed technological solutions to keep the border open on the island of Ireland – the so-called “max fac” option touted by Brexiteers such as David Davis.

The technology itself does not exist yet and the EU dismisses such ideas as “magical thinking”. Yet it is happy to have it included as an aspiration if it helps May – that is precisely why it insists on the backstop.

Austria will host a conference in Vienna today entitled “Europe beyond anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism – securing Jewish life in Europe.” There is some irony in the fact that a government including a party founded by ex-Nazis is holding such a conference at all.

One reason could be that Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is trying hard to have Israel drop a ban on dealing with ministers from the Freedom Party. Whether the four-hour-long event has much effect remains to be seen: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pulled out, and no one from the Freedom Party will be there.

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