CERNOBBIO, Italy — Matteo Salvini on Saturday softened his rhetoric on migration and Italy’s budget, telling an audience of European business elites that Rome would play by EU rules.
Italy has taken in 713,000 migrants over the past few years, the interior minister said at the annual Ambrosetti forum at Villa d’Este on Lake Como, stressing that while Italy was prepared to — in the words of Pope Francis — “welcome those it can welcome,” the country’s economic crisis made the situation unsustainable.
“We spend €5 billion each year on migrants and only 10 percent comes from the EU, this is unacceptable for our taxpayers,” Salvini said, suggesting some EU rules should be changed.
“Italy is preparing a plan to invest in Africa and we’ll do it alone if others won’t help,” the far-right League leader also said, adding that the government is working to reduce illegal immigration and human traffickers’ business while encouraging “qualified immigration like Switzerland or Canada.”
The tone of Salvini’s comments at the gathering of European business elites marked a stark departure from his live appearance on Facebook Friday evening, in which he lambasted the prosecutors investigating him over his decision to refuse the Italian navy vessel Diciotti to enter the port of Catania with 177 migrants on board at the end of August.
“I was elected by the Italian people, the prosecutors weren’t … They want to stop me but I’ll hang their subpoena on my wall like a trophy,” he said.
Commenting on the investigation again on Saturday, he said: “I’m a strong person and although it’s not something to be proud of, I will face it.”
He also pledged to follow EU budget rules to reduce Italy’s debt, saying: “Italy will respect EU budget rules and come up with economic policies based on growth and debt reduction.”
His comment echoes a statement earlier this week that Italy — which has the second largest debt in the EU after Greece — would respect the bloc’s deficit limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product despite his previous suggestion the country may not comply and that the 3 percent rule is “not the Bible.”
Italian Finance Minister Giovanni Tria has also reassured Brussels several times in the past that the country will respect the rules and not increase its massive €2.3 trillion debt.