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Renzi makes European debut amid Ukraine crisis

'All options covered' on Crimea, talks tough on EU 'homework'

06 March, 20:06
Renzi makes European debut amid Ukraine crisis (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Brussels, March 6 - Matteo Renzi made his debut as Italian premier on the European stage in Brussels Thursday for meetings on the developing crisis in Ukraine.

Speaking after an extraordinary summit of European Union leaders, Renzi said the talks were "significant" because of the "cries of pain from the Ukrainian people". Before the sessions, Renzi met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Polish Premier David Tusk. The five leaders "covered all possible options" with the aim of "finding a way to help Ukraine", diplomatic sources said.

They also discussed possible political sanctions aimed at achieving a "de-escalation" of the crisis, which has intensified with Russian intervention in Crimea. "Measures will be taken if there are no steps forward," diplomatic sources said. As European leaders met, the White House announced visa restrictions on Russians and people in Crimea accused of "threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine". After the meeting, Merkel condemned Crimea's March 16 referendum on joining the Russian Federation, saying it "is illegal, incompatible with the Ukraine Constitution and further worsens the situation".

Meanwhile the Italian government said the crises both in Ukraine and in Libya posed no threat to Italy's energy supplies in the short- or mid-term. Despite the focus on Ukraine in Brussels, Renzi could not evade questions after the summit regarding warnings from the European Commission a day earlier that Italy's present budget is insufficient to correct the country's macroeconomic imbalances.

When asked by journalists if he had had to reassure Italy's European partners regarding the state of the country's finances, Renzi said his government "had no reassurances to give". When pressed on the issue, Renzi said Italy didn't need "to get homework from the EU" and "knows perfectly well what it has to do" to keep its fiscal house in order. Italy "will do it on its own for the future of our children. Basta with this constant refrain depicting Europe as the place we come to get our homework", said the new premier, stressing that his government's priority is "jobs and growth, growth and jobs". He promised more details of his government's program in these areas will come on Wednesday.

Less than a month old, the government has vowed to tackle high unemployment and the country's massive debt of over two trillion euros by focusing on stimulus and job creation. Next Wednesday Renzi plans to roll out a package of measures including his touted Jobs Act, a two-billion-euro plan for Italy's schools, and help for Italy's ailing housing and construction sector.

Cutting off journalists in Brussels, Renzi on Thursday rushed back to Rome for a dinner with United States Secretary of State John Kerry. "I've got to go. A dinner awaits with US Secretary of State John Kerry," Renzi told journalists after the two-minute press conference.