BRUSSELS, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Centre-left governments should join forces to counter German influence in the European Union, Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told socialist leaders on Thursday, according to a source who attended the meeting.
In the past months, Rome’s relations with the EU have soured over how to deal with Europe’s migration crisis and on new rules to increase the euro zone’s financial stability, issues where Germany has played a prominent role
At a meeting of EU socialist leaders, hours before an EU summit began in Brussels, Renzi urged his colleagues to work together to offset German power in Europe, airing concerns about Berlin’s plans to import more Russian gas despite EU sanctions, the source said.
Renzi’s party has the biggest centre-left contingent in the European Parliament but has so far commanded little influence in the EU, where German-led conservative forces prevail.
In EU politics, national interests often take priority over political affiliations. France’s socialist president Francois Hollande, for example, has often found himself closer to German Chancellor Angela Merkel than to Renzi.
Hollande did not attend the meeting of socialist parties. The German president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz was among the participants, together with the leaders of Austria, Portugal, Sweden, Malta and Slovakia.
At the meeting, Renzi raised concerns about Berlin’s plans to double the capacity of Nord Stream, the pipeline that brings gas to Germany through the Baltic Sea from Russia.
Renzi argued that the German plan was at odds with EU economic sanctions on Russia, which have already caused the collapse of plans for South Stream, a pipeline that was supposed to carry Russian gas to Southern Europe.
Italy has requested a debate at the EU summit on plans to extend economic sanctions against Russia for its intervention in Ukraine by six months until July of next year. This is considered an unusual move given that there is already broad consensus among EU states on the extension.
Socialist leaders made no comments after their summit. Leaving the meeting, Renzi called “quite surreal” the EU pressure on Italy to fingerprint migrants, claiming that the country is already doing what is required.
Rome is accused of not registering arriving migrants and allowing them to move on freely to other countries in the border-free Schengen area. (Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Noah Barkin)