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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Italy PM vows to review EU sanctions against Russia

Giuseppe Conte says he wants to take a tougher line against migrants and to reject EU austerity measures

Giuseppe Conte, Italy's prime minister, delivers his maiden speech to the Senate flanked by his two deputy PMs, Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement, left, and League leader Matteo Salvini. Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg
Giuseppe Conte, Italy's prime minister, delivers his maiden speech to the Senate flanked by his two deputy PMs, Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement, left, and League leader Matteo Salvini. Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg

Italy’s incoming prime minister on Tuesday won the first of two parliamentary votes to confirm his populist government, after calling in his maiden policy speech for “obligatory” redistribution of asylum seekers around the EU and a review of sanctions against Russia.

Giuseppe Conte’s government, made up of a coalition of far-right and eurosceptic parties, was sworn in on Friday after almost three months of political turmoil that has alarmed EU officials and spooked financial markets.

A lawyer with little political and no government experience, Mr Conte was nominated by far-right League leader Matteo Salvini and the head of the anti-establishment Five Star movement Luigi di Maio – both of whom are now his deputy prime ministers.

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Read more:

Italy's populist government prepares to face parliament vote

Salvini in Sicily to push new hard line on migration

Italy's eurosceptics and their currency ideas take centre-stage

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In his first policy speech to politicians since being sworn in, the new PM reaffirmed several of the coalition’s key manifesto themes, including a tough line on migrants, rejection of economic austerity and conciliatory gestures towards Moscow.

“We want to reduce our public debt, but we want to do so with growth and not with austerity measures,” he told senators.

“We will strongly call for the Dublin Regulation to be overhauled in order to obtain respect for a fair distribution of responsibilities and to achieve an automatic system of compulsory distribution of asylum seekers.”

Under the Dublin Rules, would-be asylum seekers must submit their applications in their country of arrival, meaning Italy has huge numbers to deal with.

On Russia, which faces EU sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, Mr Conte said: “We will promote a review of the sanctions system.”

The alliance between the Five Star Movement and League won Tuesday’s vote in the Senate, with 171 votes in favour, 117 against and 25 abstentions.

A second parliamentary vote on Wednesday in the Chamber of Deputies, where the two parties also enjoy a majority, will officially confirm the new cabinet.

The government is set to win despite both former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party – a campaign ally of the League – and the outgoing centre-left Democratic Party saying that they will not vote in favour.

On the 53-year-old prime minister’s agenda in his first weeks in office are a Group of Seven summit in Canada this week and a key EU summit at the end of the month.

Mr Conte’s low profile has fuelled speculation that he will take a back seat to his two powerful deputies. Mr Salvini is interior minister and Mr Di Maio holds the economic development portfolio in addition to both being deputy premiers.

Since being sworn in Mr Conte had limited himself to a Facebook post in which he said that he had spoken with German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron, and would meet the two leaders at the G7 summit.

On Monday, Mr Di Maio met representatives of food deliverers in Italy’s gig economy.

He described the workers as “the symbol of an abandoned generation”, and underlined the need to give them “job security and a dignified minimum wage”.

Mr Salvini has wasted no time addressing immigration, saying at the weekend that Italy “cannot be Europe’s refugee camp” on a visit to Sicily, where thousands of migrants have arrived in recent years.

On Saturday the 45-year-old said the “good times for illegals are over” in a country where about 700,000 migrants have arrived since 2013.

“Get ready to pack your bags,” he said.

European Union interior ministers met on Tuesday to discuss possible reforms of the bloc’s controversial Dublin rules but made little apparent progress.

Mr Salvini has criticised the system as unfairly burdening Mediterranean countries and leading to “an obvious imbalance in management, numbers and costs”.

He and his fellow deputy PM have been heavily criticised for remaining silent about the murder of Sacko Soumayla, a 29-year-old Malian who died from gunshot wounds after an unknown assailant fired at him and two others on Saturday.

However on Tuesday Mr Conte called the incident “tragic and troubling”, adding that Mr Soumayla was “one of thousands of day labourers with correct immigration papers who every day in this country go to work in conditions below any level of dignity”.

He said: “Politics should bear the responsibility of these peoples’ ordeals and ensure pathways of legality, which is the guiding light of our government programme.”

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