Italy is seeking the support of EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager in its fight with Slovakia over an electrical appliances factory.
The Rome government is banking on a bold intervention from Vestager at a press conference planned for Wednesday, in the hope it will shore up its position ahead of a general election in less than two weeks.
The decision comes at a bad time for Calenda, a member of the center-left government and former permanent representative to the EU, just before the March 4 national election. It also has echoes of last year’s French election, in whichWhirlpool played a small but high-profile part. In April 2017, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen “trolled” her rival for the presidency, Emmanuel Macron, by snapping selfies with workers in the parking lot of a Whirlpool factory where he was meeting with union representatives.
“Emmanuel Macron is with the oligarchs, with the Medef [the French employers’ association] … I am with the French workers,” Le Pen said.
Whirlpool had been at the center of a campaign controversy because of plans to outsource jobs to Poland and shut its factory in France. Le Pen accused Macron, who was the economy minister at the time the decision was taken, of having done nothing to prevent it.
In Italy, Calenda hasn’t given up hope. He was in Brussels to see if Slovakia has breached European state aid rules and if Rome can be allowed to intervene without breaching those same rules.
He said after the meeting that Vestager “has assured me that the Commission is very uncompromising in assessing cases that have been flagged,” adding that the competition commissioner will hold a press conference Wednesday and she has “a very clear view of the issue.” However, any action the Commission takes, if at all, is highly unlikely to come before the Italian election.
Speaking to a radio station before meeting Vestager, Calenda accused Slovakia of “unfair competition.” He also accused Bratislava of attracting multinationals by using EU structural funds, which is against EU rules. Italian media said this was not the first time Embraco has threatened to move to Slovakia, where salaries are lower: It happened in 2004 and in 2014, and on both occasions the company gotseveral million euros to stay from Italian authorities.
Labor Minister Giuliano Poletti on Tuesday said the government was ready to employ “social buffers” to help the almost 500 workers who face being laid off. But the Italian government faces an increasingly common problem for Europe’s center left: blue-collar workers are taking their votes elsewhere. According to a survey published by Corriere della Sera at the end of last month, 40.6 percent of traditional center-left voters are planning to back the anti-establishment 5Star Movement and almost 20 percent say they will vote for the far-right Northern League.