MILAN (AP) — Italian right-wing leader Matteo Salvini on Friday criticized Germany and other European Union nations for not working together on a common response to the energy crisis but instead “protecting their own interests.”
“The European Union in these days, in these weeks, has been very much everyone for himself. The Spaniards protected their own interests, the French protected their own interests,’’ Salvini said at a Milan demonstration by farmers protesting the impact of high energy prices.
He was especially bitter about the 200 billion-euro ($195 billion) package for industry and consumers Germany announced this week “Germany, from which we expected a response, did not wait for a European intervention. It put up 200 billion euros cash,’’ Salvini said.
Italy has spent some 60 billion euros since last year to ease the pain of higher energy prices for households and industry. But the Coldiretti agriculture lobby behind Friday’s protest said aid to farmers has been mostly in the form of tax credits and not help with electricity bills, which have gone up 500% since last year, or fertilizer costs, up 170%.
The outgoing government of Premier Mario Draghi has refused to borrow more money for a deeper aid package, citing Italy’s high debt level. Italy instead has pressed for a European price cap on Russian natural gas, leveraging on the bloc’s collective market power, but so far has been unable to persuade the rest of the EU to go along.
Germany is worried that Russia would cut off gas, crippling its industry, and France has set its own national price cap.
Salvini’s League is part of the right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy and also including Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia that is expected to form Italy’s next government in the coming weeks.
Salvini told the farmers protesting in Milan that his party would make protecting Italian agriculture a priority, citing “unfair competition” from other countries. League members served as the agriculture ministers in two previous governments.
Coldiretti President Ettore Prandini warned that 70,000 Italian farms working at a loss could go out of business due to high energy prices and said few of them would be able to relaunch under more favorable conditions.
“Those who spend 200 billion euros wind up creating a form of unfair competition inside the European community,’’ Prandini said, referring to Germany's aid package.
Prandini was joined by young farmers who were protesting the high energy costs during a fair highlighting Italian agricultural excellence that featured 2 kilometers (more than a mile) of stands selling a range of fruit, produce, dairy, meat and cheeses.
“We hope to let consumers know who buy from us that if there are higher prices, that it is because of everything around us,’’ said Claudia Roggero, who is the third generation to work a family farm focused on honey production.
Roggero said they raised the price of a kilo of honey from 11 euros to 12 euros to cover the rising cost of glass, but are still taking a hit.
“Besides the higher energy costs, there is also the lower production due to climate change. If production is down and energy prices are going up, we can no longer find the right balance,’’ she said.
Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Ciaran Gilles in Madrid contributed.