Italy’s populist strongman Matteo Salvini threatened to sue EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker for damages Tuesday for talking down his country’s economy.
“The words and threats of Juncker and other European bureaucrats continue to make the spread rise,” said the deputy premier, referring to a key economic indicator measuring the difference between rates on 10-year debt paid by Italy compared to those paid by Germany.
“Is the aim to attack the government and the Italian economy? We are ready to ask for compensation from those who wish Italy ill.”
Salvini, the pugnacious leader of the far-right Lega party, was responding to comments by the European Commission President Monday about Italy’s budget proposals. Juncker compared Italy’s woes to Greece’s troubled economy after the Italian government released plans for a budget that boosts public spending and will increase the deficit.
The senior EU bureaucrat had called for Brussels to apply tight restrictions on the Italian budget, or risk facing the end of the euro, warning that “after the toughest management of the Greece crisis, we have to do everything to avoid a new Greece, this time an Italy, crisis.”
Speaking in Naples Tuesday, Salvini complained that Juncker’s remarks had "sent the spread crazy,” after it rose to a new high in the wake of the comments.
“He could have spared us that," Salvini said, before casting aspersions on Juncker’s state of mind.
“I only talk to sober people who don't make comparisons that are neither here nor there. He should drink two glasses of water before opening his mouth, and stop spreading non-existent threats, or we'll ask him for damages.”
The remarks appeared to be a dig at Juncker’s wobbly appearance at a summit in July where the former Luxembourg prime minister was unsteady on his feet, prompting speculation about his wellbeing.
Juncker’s deputy, European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, doubled down Tuesday with warnings that Italy could face EU sanctions if it follows through with it proposed budget, which would lift to the public deficit to 2.4 percent of gross domestic product for the next three years. Italy’s populist coalition government, which came to power in June, is refusing to budge on its plans.
European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas attempted to cool the dispute Tuesday, claiming the tone of Juncker’s comments had been lost in translation from the original German to Italian. But that may not be enough to draw a line under the dispute for Salvini, whose Lega party has taken a litigious line towards its opponents. Last month it emerged Lega was suing Italy’s first black government minister for defamation for calling it racist — despite Lega politicians having repeatedly publicly compared her to a monkey.
Cover image: Deputy Prime Minister of Italy and Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini speaks during the meeting of the Public Security Coordination at the prefecture on October 2, 2018 in Naples, Italy. (Ivan Romano/Getty Images)