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The dispute between the coalition government in Rome and European Commission in Brussels over Italy's spending plans took a turn for the worse Tuesday, when a shoe became a part of the drama surrounding the two parties' deteriorating relations.
The European Commission, the EU's executive arm that checks and approves members states' spending plans, rejected Italy's draft 2019 budget on Tuesday as widely expected, as it reneged on a previous commitment to lower the country's budget deficit. Italy now has three weeks to come up with an alternative spending plan. As could be expected, the news has not gone down well among Italy's populist government.
On Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said that Italy would not change its expansionary budget, which envisages a budget deficit of 2.4 percent in 2019 (against a previously agreed target of 0.8 percent) telling an Italian radio station today that "Italians come first ... Italy no longer wants to be a servant to silly rules," the head of the Lega party said, Reuters reported.
One member of the Lega party went one step further, however, after he was filmed trampling on the Commission's decision with his shoe – one that was "Made in Italy," no less.
Angelo Ciocca, a member of Lega and a member of the European parliament (an MEP) posted a video on his Twitter account of him protesting against the decision using his shoe.
In the video, Ciocca takes to the press platform in the European parliament in Strasbourg, where Pierre Moscovici, the European commissioner for economic and financial affairs, had just detailed the Commission's response to Italy's budget.
The Lega politician then takes the document and "tramples" the papers on the desk with one of his shoes as Moscovici, a well-known face in Brussels and the euro zone, tries to stop him.
Ciocca posted the video on Twitter with a comment that Italy "deserves respect" and he called officials within the European Commission "imbeciles."
"In Strasbourg, I stepped on (with a sole Made in Italy!!!) The mountain of lies that #Moscovici wrote against #NostroPaese (our country)!!! Italy deserves respect and these #EuroImbecilli have to understand, we no longer lower our heads!!! Did I do well???," Coicca wrote.
With relations already at a low ebb between Rome and Brussels, Ciocca's act of defiance with a shoe is unlikely to mend fractious relations between the two sides.
EU official Moscovici was not impressed and later took to Twitter to say that the shoe "episode" was "grotesque" and 'symbolic violence." He also said such behavior was akin to trivial acts that eventually lead to fascism.
"The "shoe Made in Italy" episode is grotesque. At first we smile and trivialize (it) because it is ridiculous, then we get used to a deaf symbolic violence, and one day we wake up with fascism. Let's stay vigilant! Democracy is a fragile treasure," his translated tweet said.
Moscovici also tweeted that the Commission's decision on Tuesday should "come as no surprise to anyone as the Italian Government's draft budget represents a clear and intentional deviation from the commitments made by Italy last July."
Italy's previously government had promised to keep its budget deficit (the amount by which its spending exceeds its income) at 0.8 percent but the country's coalition government, made up of two anti-establishment and euroskeptic parties Lega and the 5-Star Movement, instead said it would target a deficit of 2.4 percent in 2019.
It's the first time the Commission has rejected a budget. European Commission Vice-President for the Euro and Social Dialogue Valdis Dombrovskis said in a statement Tuesday that the "Italian government is consciously and openly going against commitments made."