Matteo Renzi.jpg

Central and Eastern European countries unwilling to accept asylum seekers should be punished for their lack of "solidarity" with a cut in European Union funding, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi suggested Monday.

Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary - large recipients of EU regional aid funds - have baulked at a European Commission plan to redistribute across the EU of tens of thousands of asylum seekers who have landed on Italian and Greek shores.

"If you don't show solidarity on migration, I think it is absolutely legitimate for bigger countries to not show solidarity on [EU budget] contributions," Renzi said at a press conference at the foreign press club in Rome.

The Italian leader said he raised the issue at last week's EU summit in Brussels, warning that Rome will play hardball in upcoming talks on the 2020-26 EU budget in retaliation for the anti-migrant stance of the so-called Visegrad countries.

Those nations owe a debt of gratitude to leaders of older EU members who "took risks and sometimes also lost their jobs" to defend their admission into the bloc in 2004, against public opinions worried by the spectre of job-stealing "Polish plumbers," Renzi said.

"You cannot imagine that Germany, Austria, Sweden, Italy take on their own all the burden of migrants and refugees and at the same time give economic aid to all the others," the Italian premier insisted.

Commenting on Austria's decision to limit refugee numbers and step up border controls with Italy and Slovenia - the latest challenge to Europe's border-free Schengen zone - Renzi said Vienna was under great pressure from migrants but had chosen the wrong response.

"We cannot accept a return to the principle of barriers and quotas for asylum seekers. I hope that we will work very seriously [...] between now and the next European Council to solve the Austrian problem, but it won't be easy," he said.

In recent months, Renzi has emerged as a leading critic of EU policies on migration, energy, banking regulation and budget discipline, putting him increasingly at odds with the European Commission and Germany, the EU's most influential member.

Speaking to the foreign press on the two-year anniversary of his government, and ahead of Friday's visit to Rome by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, he said he was not courting eurosceptic opinion, but sincerely wanted to reform the EU.

Renzi also warned British voters against voting to exit the bloc. "If the UK leaves Europe, the main problem will be for the UK, for its firms, its businessmen and for its citizens, and this is why I am convinced that common sense will prevail in the end," he said.

Later Monday, the Italian government published a 9-page blueprint for EU reforms, including calls to set up a eurozone unemployment benefits scheme, a common euro area budget and finance minister, and criticism of Germany's large trade surplus.

"Very large current account surpluses [like Germany's] have a negative impact on the overall functioning of the eurozone just as current account deficits," it said, urging the EU commission to sanction such practices "more effectively."

The paper noted citizens' "difficulties in perceiveing the added value of being part of the European Union" and rising support for populist parties, and said the bloc needed a "strategy to restore sustained growth and boost jobs."

Latest news

Thousands of Romanians revive anti-government protests

Thousands of Romanians turned out on Sunday to renew their demands for the government to step down amid accusations it is trying to protect corrupt politicians.

Francis, first pope to visit Anglicans in Rome, weighs S Sudan trip

Pope Francis became the first leader of the Catholic Church to visit the Anglican community in Rome on Sunday, where he said he was considering a trip to famine-struck South Sudan.

Ibrahimovic lifts Man United past Southampton in League Cup final

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored an 87th-minute winner as Manchester United beat Southampton 3-2 in an exciting League Cup final on Sunday.

London screens Iranian director's film amid Oscars boycott

Thousands of people watched a free screeening of Iranian director Asghar Farhadi's film "The Salesman" in London on Sunday to coincide with the Oscars.

Real Madrid stage comeback to stay top; Messi scores in Barcelona win

Lionel Messi scored the winner as Barcelona beat Atletico Madrid 2-1 on Sunday to move top of the Spanish first division.

Dubrovnik Sun Gardens Hotel member of The Leading Hotels of the World

The Dubrovnik Sun Gardens Hotel has joined the Leading Hotels of the World, Ltd., a global hospitality consortium of more than 375 hotels and resorts in over 75 countries.

Biggest Bosnian Serb party ceases all contact with Izetbegovic over ICJ judjment review request

The main committee of the biggest Bosnian Serb party which makes up the ruling majority in Bosnia and Herzegovina decided o Sunday that its officials would cease all contact with member of the Bosnian President Bakir Izetbegovic until the crisis occurred following the submission of a request to the International Court of justice (ICJ) to review its ruling against Serbia is resolved.

Egypt court adjourns Morsi retrial over prison escape

An Egyptian court adjourned a case against former president Mohamed Morsi until March 29 on Sunday, during the first session of his retrial over orchestrating a prison escape during the 2011 uprising.

Hamas rejects Netanyahu's proposal for international forces in Gaza

The Islamic Hamas movement rejected on Sunday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's proposal to send international forces to the Gaza Strip, the coastal enclave that Hamas has been ruling since 2007.

Deloitte: Growing optimism among CFOs

Chief financial officers (CFOs) in Croatia are more optimistic about growth and financial prospects in 2017 than they were last year, with most of them expecting increases in their company's revenue, a survey shows.

Russian agents main suspects for attempted coup in Montenegro

Russian citizens Eduard Shumakov and Vladimir Popoc, suspected of organising terrorist activities in Montenegro and forming a criminal organisation, are agents of Russia's Main Intelligence Agency (GRU), British, U.S. and other intelligence agencies confirmed, the Podgorica-based media reported on Sunday.

Six injured, 96 detained in Berlin fan clashes

Six people were treated in hospital and 96 detained in clashes in Berlin between fans of Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt, police said Sunday.