BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union on Thursday dismissed a suggestion that its budget rules had prevented Italy from spending enough to keep its infrastructure safe, two days after a bridge collapse in Genoa killed at least 38 people.
The Italian anti-establishment government’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini was quick to suggest the country’s infrastructure would have been in better shape had it not been for spending caps policed by Brussels among all EU states.
A spokesman for the executive European Commission rebuffed the criticism, saying Italy was getting 2.5 billion euros from EU coffers for investments in network infrastructure in 2014-2020.
“The EU has encouraged investments in infrastructure in Italy,” spokesman Christian Spahr said, adding the Commission also cleared last April a state aid plan for Italian motorways that would enable some 8.5 billion euros of investment.
“The agreed fiscal rules leave flexibility to any member state to set specific policy priorities and this can be the development and maintenance of infrastructure,” he added.
“There is also flexibility within the Stability and Growth Pact and Italy has been one of the main beneficiaries of this flexibility,” he said of the EU’s rules on public spending.
Under EU laws, Spahr said, the bridge’s private operator - Autostrade per l’Italia, part of Milan-listed international toll-road group Atlantia (ATL.MI) - was responsible for keeping the bridge safe and the Italian authorities for solid oversight.
Italy is now working on its 2019 budget, which must be presented to the European Commission by mid-October. Financial markets have grown concerned that Italy will seek to break clear of EU spending restraints.
Italy’s public debt, at around 132 percent of gross domestic product, is already the highest in the euro zone after Greece’s.
Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Gareth Jones