July 2, 2019 / 6:42 PM / 14 days ago

PM Conte says Italy will receive competition portfolio in next EU Commission

Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte arrives to take part in a European Union leaders summit, in Brussels, Belgium July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Tuesday Italy would receive the influential competition portfolio in the next European Commission, adding that he also hoped to obtain a post on the next ECB board for his nation.

Speaking after an EU summit on a raft of top appointments, Conte said he expected the far-right League coalition party would pick the Italian commissioner to reflect the fact that it had emerged as the country’s largest group in May’s EU election.

“We have been guaranteed a high-profile economic commissioner, and possibly a vice-presidency” of the new Brussels executive, Conte told reporters. He later clarified that he had been promised the competition portfolio.

Conte, a technocrat with no party affiliation, said he had opposed a previous, mooted deal on the bloc’s top jobs because he had not been involved in the negotiations. “It was unacceptable,” he said.

France, Germany and Spain had proposed Dutch Socialist Frans Timmermans as the next head of the European Union executive, but Italy and eastern European nations rejected this at an all-night summit on Sunday.

Since the coalition government formed by the League and 5-Star Movement came to power last year, Rome has loosened its old alliances with EU heavyweights and moved closer to newer member states that share its anti-establishment views.

Conte said he supported the new jobs deal thrashed out on Tuesday, including the recommendation that France’s Christine Lagarde should be the next head of the European Central Bank.

He said this would open the way for an Italian to take a place on the ECB board, although he acknowledged that he had not received any firm guarantee that this would happen.

Italy’s Mario Draghi steps down as ECB chief in October, potentially leaving the euro zone’s third largest economy without board representation unless someone from France or Germany, the other big euro-zone powers already on the board, takes the top job.

Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Crispian Balmer

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