February 19, 2016 / 12:35 AM / 4 years ago

No refugees, no money - Italy's Renzi threatens EU's east

Migrants walk towards a makeshift camp close to the Austrian border town of Spielfeld in the village of Sentilj, Slovenia, February 16, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi warned Eastern European leaders on Thursday that they may get less European Union development money if they do not help with the refugee crisis, participants at an EU summit in Brussels said.

In the midst of the worst migration crisis in Europe since World War Two, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have been among the staunchest opponents of EU plans to transfer asylum seekers arriving in southern Europe to other EU states.

“The migration crisis is a common problem for all EU countries. If you do not show solidarity, countries contributing the most to the EU budget may show less solidarity to you,” said one person familiar with Renzi’s comments to fellow leaders at a dinner which last into the early hours of Friday.

He threatened Eastern European countries with reductions in EU development funds channelled to their poorest regions.

About one third of the EU’s seven-year, 1-trillion-euro ($1.11 trillion) budget for 2014-20 is set aside for projects in poorer, mainly formerly communist countries and regions of the bloc through so-called “structural funds”.

Negotiations for the next seven-year budget will start this year. Italy is the third biggest contributor to the EU budget after Germany and France. As the costs of sheltering asylum seekers are growing, the countries hosting most of them are calling for some financial support from the EU budget.

The Netherlands, which holds the six-month presidency of the EU, has raised the possibility that a portion of the current budget’s structural funds be reassigned to deal with the migration crisis.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio, editing by G Crosse

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