ROME/BRUSSELS Italy will contribute to a 3 billion euro European Union fund to help Turkey tackle the European migration crisis, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Monday, dropping objections blocking implementation of the plan.
Under a deal from last November, Ankara is to stem the flood of refugees and migrants leaving for Europe in exchange for the aid. Brussels hopes that would help limit the influx of people fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East and Africa after more than a million reached Europe last year.
Italy, which has locked horns on a number of issues with Brussels recently, has been blocking payouts to Turkey in hope of winning more leeway from the bloc on its 2016 budget.
But during a visit to Nigeria on Monday, Renzi spoke to reporters in comments later circulated by a spokesman. "At this point, we will give our contribution to Turkey to save human lives," he said.
The EU's executive said earlier on Monday that it had offered in December to exempt any contributions to the Turkey fund from member state's budget deficit calculations under the bloc's accounting rules.
That would make the contributions more palatable as the 28 EU states are obliged to stick to prudent spending rules set out in the so-called Stability and Growth Pact or face disciplinary action from Brussels.
Renzi welcomed the proposal as "finally something positive" and EU envoys will consider it on Wednesday in Brussels.
A source told Reuters the plan includes contributions in 2016 envisaged at 427.5 million euros for Germany, 327.6 million euros for Britain, 309.2 million euros for France and 224.9 million euros for Italy.
The source, familiar with the document, said it also included a line allowing for the lowering of the contributions in 2017, and that Cyprus - which has a long-standing feud with Turkey - would pay 2.3 million euros to Jordan and Lebanon instead.
While some 2.5 million Syrian refugees are currently in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon have also taken in hundreds of thousands.
Renzi's demands have gone further than the exemption proposed by the Commission. The Italian leader, who met German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the matter on Friday, has pressed Brussels to accept up front that Rome would spend an extra 3.2 billion euros this year on migration, increasing its deficit.
The Commission says it can only evaluate migration-related spending after it takes place, assessing each item case-by-case.
Italy, which is in complex financial talks with Brussels to help its struggling economy, has also been on the front line of migrant multitudes entering Europe, along with Greece.
It was not immediately clear whether Italy's other demands were now dropped. In his remarks, Renzi still criticised Brussels' approach to trying to alleviate Europe's worst migration crisis since World War Two.
"We have saved thousands of lives while Europe looked the other way. We will keep doing that because before the stability pact, there is a humanity pact," Renzi said.
"If they want to open a procedure against Italy, let them, we will go ahead. For us, Europe means values and ideals, not arguments among budget pedants," he said, calling EU officials in Brussels "professional polemicists".
(Reporting by Francesca Piscioneri in Rome, Gabriela Baczynska, Tom Koerkemeier and Francesco Guarascio in Brussels; Writing by Isla Binnie and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Tom Heneghan)