Italy’s Renzi vows to fight terrorism threat with culture

James Politi in Rome

Matteo Renzi has come up with what may seem a uniquely Italian solution to the security threat gripping Europe: to fight terrorism with culture.

The 40-year old Italian prime minister on Tuesday laid out plans for €2bn in new spending in response to the November 13 attacks in Paris, amid growing concerns that Italy could be a terrorist target. While €1bn would be used for security and defence purposes, another €1bn would pay for cultural programmes.

Rome, Italy
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This includes more money for disenfranchised neighbourhoods on the outskirts of big cities, where there are often clashes between Italians and immigrants, but also a €500 bonus for every 18-year old to spend at theatres, concerts and museums. The idea, according to Mr Renzi, is to reinforce their sense of being guardians of Italy's vast cultural heritage.

"What happened in Paris signalled a step-up in the cultural battle that we are living," Mr Renzi said at a speech at the Capitoline Museum in Rome. "They imagine terror, we answer with culture. They destroy statues, we love art. They destroy books, we are the country of libraries."

They imagine terror, we answer with culture. They destroy statues, we love art.

Mr Renzi's plan — which has yet to be approved by parliament — could face resistance from Italian business, since it is funded by delaying until 2017 a planned corporate tax cut that many saw as essential to reinforcing the country's sluggish economic recovery.

Italy's premier said the business tax cut could still happen in 2016 if Brussels would allow Italy to bend eurozone budget rules by raising its deficit from 2.2 per cent to 2.4 per cent of gross domestic product. "We want to forcefully ask Europe to respect a pact of humanity which is worth more than the stability pact," he added.

Mr Renzi also took a swipe at world leaders for rejecting his proposal at a Nato summit in September 2014 to exclude security spending from EU budget rules. "I won't tell you the reactions I got, and now it seems obvious," he said.

The prime minister's plan comes amid growing fears among Italians that the approaching "Jubilee of Mercy" called by Pope Francis, due to begin December 8, will make the country a terrorist target. Millions of pilgrims from around the world are expected to flock to Rome for the occasion.

More from the Financial Times:

Italian police on Tuesday raided a prominent migrant centre in the Tiburtina neighbourhood in northeastern Rome, detaining at least 23 undocumented African migrants who were housed at the facility. Meanwhile, a solemn state funeral was held in Venice's St Mark's Square for Valeria Solesin, a 28-year old Italian who was killed at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris on the night of the attacks.

Mr Renzi is due to meet François Hollande, French president, in Paris on Thursday, and Joe Biden, US vice-president, on Friday, to discuss the response to the terror attacks. "An international coalition requires respect for international law and a strategic vision for the future of the affected territories," he said.

A poll released by Piepoli this week showed that 60 per cent of Italians are against joining France and Russia in pursuing military action against Isis in Syria.

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