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EU-Turkey migrant plan blocked by Italy – officials

Italian Prime Minister Renzi

By Francesco Guarascio and Tom Körkemeier

Italy is blocking a European Union plan to provide Turkey with 3 billion euros in aid in exchange for a commitment to stem the flow of migrants into Europe, two European officials said on Thursday.

The move marks a further escalation in Italy’s combative position on EU issues. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi blasted German Chancellor Angela Merkel at an EU summit in December over EU policies on energy, banking and migration.

Since then, Italy has reiterated its opposition to the funding of the EU plan to stem migrants coming to Europe from the Middle East and Asia through Turkey, officials said. The plan is strongly backed by Germany, which is the final destination of most.

“There is only one member state that still has objections against the funding for Turkey. We do not understand why Italy is blocking it,” a European diplomat said.

Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is expected to raise the issue at Friday’s meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels, a diplomat said.

The draft plan foresees that one third of the 3 billion euros should come from the EU budget and the remaining 2 billion from EU states.

Talks are continuing on how the national funding would be treated under EU deficit rules.

Italy is currently in talks with the EU Commission on whether it can be granted more fiscal leeway in its 2016 budget.

EU states gave initial backing to the aid plan at a summit with Turkey in November and the EU summit last month.

“The EU is now seen as backtracking. We need to solve this urgently so we can credibly negotiate with Ankara to stem the flow,” the EU source said.

There was no immediate comment from the Italian government.

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