Conte and Trump call for Russian return to G8

ROME – Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Friday that he wants Russia to be restored to the group of the world’s most advanced countries, falling in line with President of the United States Donald Trump, as the pair deviate from the prevelant EU stance, political sources said.

 “I agree with President Trump: Russia should return to the G8,” Conte tweeted from the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Canada.

 Italian foreign policy has come under heavy scrutiny since Conte arrived at the helm, and the spotlight intensified during his international debut at the G7 Summit.

 Ties to Moscow have strengthened recently as Interior Minister Matteo Salvini advances his push for a review of Russian sanctions, which were enforced on the back of the annexation of Crimea in 2014, also leading to Russia’s expulsion from the G8.

 Salvini attended a party organised by the Russian Embassy in Rome, holding a private 20-minute conversation with the Russian Ambassador.

 Yet, Labour and Industry Minister Luigi Di Maio tried to calm fear of drastic changes to foreign policy, telling Radio Anch’io listeners on Friday that “we remain in NATO and allied to the United States. But we are carrying forward dialogue with other countries too, such as Russia.”

 As Italy grows increasingly disconnected from the common EU position, however, political commentators are becoming progressively troubled by question marks hanging over the country’s international political profile.

 “The fact that Di Maio needs to confirm Italy’s allegiance to NATO and the US is not a good thing for Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte,” Corriere della Sera’s Massimo Franco said, adding that the country faces the “umpteenth risk of isolation.”

 Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is expected to meet with Foreign Minister Moavero Milanesi for discussions in Rome on Sunday, hoping to clarify a range of issues on Italy’s divergent foreign policy.

 Having won confidence votes in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, Conte is gearing up for full operation of his M5S-League government upon his return to Rome, as Di Maio confirms VAT will not increase.

 The deputy Prime Minister vowed that there would be no rise in VAT, which had been scheduled to take effect later this year, whilst the populist government’s flat tax objectives take shape, now planned over the course of three years.

 “You have my word here that VAT will not increase and the safeguard clauses will be defused,” Di Maio told traders and ensures at ConfCommercio in Rome.

 “Minister Tria is working to avert the VAT increase on which we measure our credibility,” the M5S leader added as opponents of the inexperienced coalition government question the stretch of the Italian budget.

Critics have highlighted that Italy, which boasts the second-highest public debt in the eurozone, at 132% of GDP, will struggle to cope with several radical reforms proposed under Conte’s leadership.

 Italy will “not be reckless” Di Maio said, but the new government “would not be afraid to have differences of opinion with the European Commission.”

 Italian President Sergio Mattarella joined calls for caution in spending, insisting that decisions must be taken in line with the public finance limits.