Italy’s Gualtieri Says EU Feud Is History as Finance Chiefs Meet

(Bloomberg) -- Italy is ready to resume its role as a committed member of the European Union under its new government, Finance Minister Roberto Gualtieri said, as a meeting with EU counterparts kicked off in Helsinki on Friday.

In a clear break with the fiery populist government that ran the country for 14 months until this summer, the new team led by Premier Giuseppe Conte plans to “actively take part in discussions” with Brussels on policy matters and on Italy’s own budget.

Italy will now “return to being a protagonist in Europe, carrying out the role that it deserves as a great founder nation,” Gualtieri told reporters.

Italy’s Gualtieri Says EU Feud Is History as Finance Chiefs Meet

Conte wants to turn the page on months of attacks against Brussels -- especially by his former deputy Matteo Salvini of the rightist League -- when spending plans and concerns over debt brought Rome to the brink of a disciplinary procedure by the European Commission.

‘Billions Burned’

The contentious relationship with the EU cost “billions burned in terms of interest on debt,” Gualtieri said separately in an interview with daily la Repubblica. It also led to “reduced political weight for Italy in Brussels.”

In Helsinki, Gualtieri sidestepped a question on whether Italy would seek to have Brussels exclude the cost of green investment from deficit calculations for the country’s 2020 budget, replying that involved two separate issues.

“One thing is the discussion of the budget and another is the bigger process of reform, completion of the economic and monetary union,” Gualtieri said.

The finance minister is also ready to draw a line under policy priorities of the past government, noting in the Repubblica interview that the League’s signature flat-tax plan is “absolutely off the books. We’ll never do it.”

Asked by Repubblica if Italy again runs the risk of an EU debt procedure, Gualtieri replied, “that period is over.” The new government, a coalition of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and Gualtieri’s own Democratic Party, or PD, “fights within the rules, but it is also committed to changing and improving them.”

While tax relief is part of the plan for the new government, the finance minister looked to temper expectations.

“The challenge is to launch a reduction of fiscal pressure with a timeline of three years,” Gualtieri told Repubblica.

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