Europe Divided
Sanctions Process Revealed Italian Frustration

After two weeks of delays instigated by Italy, the EU finally extended sanctions on Russia by another six months. “Since the Minsk agreements will not be fully implemented by 31 December 2015,” the European Council said in a statement yesterday, “the duration of the sanctions has been prolonged whilst the Council continues its assessment of progress in implementation.”

A big story story behind the reauthorization is how it revealed Italy’s deep discontent with Germany. As we have covered, the Italians held up what was supposed to be a quiet, routine reauthorization for weeks, forcing it to the Prime Ministerial level and into the limelight. Why? The short version: They’ve had enough with how Germany is running the show in the EU.

Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi revealed the extent of his discontent with Berlin in an extensive interview with the Financial Times, echoing themes that are sure to resonate across capitals across southern and eastern Europe. Italy, hurting economically to begin with, has taken a big hit from the sanctions, and so Renzi pointed out a piece of hypocrisy that particularly stings: The issue of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Renzi:

“So we say no to South Stream and then all of a sudden, quietly, we discover that there’s Nord Stream,” he says. “Who decided? Is that an EU energy policy choice? At the table, when I raised it, only Germany and Holland defended it. I understand this is important business, fine, I’m not scandalised — but I want to say either the rules apply to everyone, or no one,” he says.

More broadly, the Italian PM expressed frustration with perceived Germany hypocrisy over migrant policy, energy policy, and budget rules. Renzi insisted Italy would no longer stand by and just take it.

There’s a great deal of frustration in the EU’s south (and in France) with both German policy and Germany’s tone on European issues. Italy clearly feels it is in a better place to articulate that frustration now than it was previously. How hard Renzi will press—and how much of a hearing he will get from his fellow EU leaders, particularly now that several vital southern elections are over—could shape European politics in coming months.

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