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Old July 30th, 2018 #86
Stewart Meadows
Senior Member
Join Date: May 2018
Posts: 8,409
Stewart Meadows

Giuseppe Conte: Trump's most useful friend in Europe

Europe's political establishment will have all eyes Monday on the meeting in Washington DC between Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and US President Donald Trump.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron -- no big fans of the US administration -- are bound to hold their breath in fear that Italy might lend Trump a hand in further destabilizing the European Union, already torn by contrasts between member states and facing a deadlock in its integration process.
Though it is highly unlikely that Conte will openly call for lifting sanctions on Russia, he will show himself more supportive to ending them after the European Council approved a six-month extension in June.

Conte will be keen to reassure Trump behind closed doors that Italy backs the US strategy on the Russian front.

Rome's new populist government -- led by the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement and the Lega party -- is pushing for new ties with Russia. Lega leader and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini wants to convince EU partners to lift sanctions on Moscow by the end of this year and readmit Russia back into the exclusive G8 club.

Salvini considers European sanctions imposed on Russia after its annexation of Crimea as useless and counterproductive, having dealt a heavy blow to Russia-EU trade volumes and particularly to made-in-Italy exports. He actually defends Putin's incursion, arguing that the annexation referendum that took place in Crimea was legitimate.
But the "special feeling" between Conte and Trump goes beyond specific goals. Trump, not very popular on the other side of the Atlantic, is aware that Italy's populists are his only friends in Europe and might be tempted to exploit Italy's role on the European stage to try to weaken the anti-US Paris-Berlin axis.

Italy, after all, is a founding member of the EU and the third largest economy in the eurozone, which makes it among the top stakeholders of the EU club alongside Germany and France. Italy has the power to halt the EU integration process and the approval of specific new directives.