The Genoa bridge collapse: Is the EU responsible?

Following the devastating bridge collapse, which killed at least 39 people in Genoa, the EU is under the limelight. The accusation from Italy is that the EU’s spending rules could be to blame. According to Italy’s government, the rules prevented the country from spending enough money, which led to the infrastructure being unsafe.

Matteo Salvini, the far-right interior minister, has made no secret of the fact that he blames Brussels for the disaster – even though a lot of the media attention is on the company that is responsible for the bridge. “Spending that saves lives, jobs and the right to health must not be part of rigid calculations and of rules imposed by Europe,” he said. He later added that Italy needs to be free to spend its money without EU restrictions.

However EU budget commissioner, Günther Oettinger, responded on Twitter that: “It is very human to look for somebody to blame, when [a] terrible accident happens … still, good to look at facts.” The Commission also maintained that Italy has benefitted massively from Brussels relaxing its budget rules.

A spokesperson for the Commission added:  “We think the time has come to make a few things clear. Member states are free to set specific policy priorities, for instance the development and maintenance of infrastructure. In fact, the EU has encouraged investment in infrastructure in Italy.”

For the period 2014- 2020, Italy will receive a total of €2.5bn from the EU to spend on its roads and railways. But, earlier in the year, an EU report urged the Italian government to spend more on a number of areas, including infrastructure. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the total amount of spending on maintaining roads fell by 62% between 2007 and 2015.

Luigi Scazzieri, a specialist in EU-Italy relations at the Centre for European Reform, said Salvini’s comments were “trying to deflect all kinds of responsibility. The commission is approaching this as a technicality. Salvini is making a broader political point, which will resonate much more with Italians.”

“It is clearly a simplistic [argument] and a wrong one, but people will see that since 2010 we have had spending cuts in so many areas and that is because of the constraints we have because of the euro. Salvini, probably, can make quite a good deal of political capital from it. The ones who are at risk are the Five Star, because they have previously ridiculed the idea that that specific bridge was in danger and they have a longstanding opposition to infrastructure projects.”

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