Salvini points finger at EU after Italian bridge disaster kills dozens
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Salvini points finger at EU after Italian bridge disaster kills dozens

Paris: Italy's euroskeptic Deputy Prime Minister has seized on the collapse of a bridge in the country's north to question whether it should respect European Union budget constraints.

Matteo Salvini who also heads the euroskeptic League told reporters in Catania, Sicily, that the failure of a roughly 50-year-old suspension bridge in Genoa showed how important it is to increase investment spending. He hinted that EU spending limits could put lives at risk.

Rescuers work to recover an injured person after the Morandi highway bridge collapsed in Genoa, northern Italy, on Tuesday.

Rescuers work to recover an injured person after the Morandi highway bridge collapsed in Genoa, northern Italy, on Tuesday.

Photo: ANSA/AP

"If external constraints prevent us from spending to have safe roads and schools, then it really calls into question whether it makes sense to follow these rules," Salvini said.

"There can be no trade-off between fiscal rules and the safety of Italians."

At least 35 people were killed, Ansa newswire reported, when a section of the 1100-metre long bridge gave way following heavy rain around midday. The road was built in the 1960s and sits on thin pylons as it crosses a river, railroad tracks, and buildings carrying traffic through the heart of Genoa.

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Firefighters rescue a person from the rubble of the collapsed Morandi highway bridge in Genoa.

Firefighters rescue a person from the rubble of the collapsed Morandi highway bridge in Genoa.

Photo: ANSA/AP

The tragedy comes as Italy's anti-establishment coalition is preparing its 2019 budget, with Salvini and his populist ally Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement already demanding the EU bend its rules on deficit targets to allow them to boost spending and cut taxes. Previous Italian governments have long pressed for certain types of investment to be excluded from EU calculations.

Salvini's allies picked up the baton, with Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli pledging to reverse the shortfall in maintenance and Claudio Borghi, head of the budget committee in the lower house of Parliament, complaining about years of spending restrictions.

"The safety of the Italians must come first," he said on Twitter.

Less than three months after taking power, the populist coalition is still enjoying a honeymoon period with voters and Salvini's League in particular has surged in the polls. That will enable them to score political points by targeting bureaucrats in Brussels, said Francesco Galietti, founder of political consultancy Policy Sonar.

"The clear lack of maintenance on this bridge is some one else's legacy," he said. "But it could make it easier to push Brussels to accept more public investment."

The bridge on a main highway linking Italy with France collapsed in the Italian port city of Genoa during a sudden, violent storm, sending vehicles plunging 90 meters into a heap of rubble below.

The bridge on a main highway linking Italy with France collapsed in the Italian port city of Genoa during a sudden, violent storm, sending vehicles plunging 90 meters into a heap of rubble below.

Photo: AP

Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi from the centre-left Democratic Party, who has clashed openly with Salvini and Di Maio, criticised the Deputy Prime Minister for playing politics, even as he acknowledged the concerns about the highways.

"Maybe finally it is the time to discuss infrastructure, but without ideology," he wrote on Twitter. "But today, please, is a day only for silence."

In the coalition agreement presented in May, the League and Five Star said they'd seek a deal with other EU members and the European Commission to exclude some investments from deficit calculations to allow for "consolidating economic growth and the country's development."

Giuseppe Conte, Italy's prime minister, centre, arrives at the site of the collapsed Morandi motorway bridge in Genoa.

Giuseppe Conte, Italy's prime minister, centre, arrives at the site of the collapsed Morandi motorway bridge in Genoa.

Photo: Bloomberg

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, an academic roped in to arbitrate between Five Star and the League in government, travelled to Genoa from a brief holiday in his native village in the south. He said he was following the situation, but avoided making political comments.  Di Maio made similar comments.

President Sergio Mattarella echoed Salvini's demand for safety.

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"Italians have a right to a modern and efficient infrastructure that they can safely rely on in their everyday lives," he said in a statement. He said the public institutions and private operators companies that manage Italy's infrastructure must be conscious of the need to prevent accidents and upgrade transport networks.

Atlantia SpA, which manages the stretch of highway said it was committed to rebuilding the bridge as quickly as possible and would cooperate with any inquiry.

Bloomberg