Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi © Susan Wright

On Monday morning, the Financial Times interviewed Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, in his office at Palazzo Chigi in central Rome.

The FT reported his warning that EU economic policies were fanning the flames of populism and damaging incumbent governments across the continent — and included some pointed complaints of double standards favouring Germany and hurting Italy.

The interview lasted 35 minutes, so many more comments were left on the cutting-room floor. Here are further selected quotes from the discussion, sorted by topic.

 On the lessons of the Spanish election

● “It’s a very important and strong signal. It’s the demonstration that austerity policies can bring growth but it is jobless — and one of the jobs that is in danger of being lost is that of prime minister”

● “I don’t know what’s going to happen to my friend Mariano but I know that those who have been in the front line of being the faithful allies of the politics of rigour without growth have lost their jobs. It happened in Warsaw, though the circumstances were very particular there, it happened in Athens, it happened in Lisbon. Let’s see what happens in Madrid”

● “I do not want to underestimate what happened in France. It’s the next big country to vote. It’s true that Marine Le Pen was stopped in the run-offs, but the first-round results were more dictated by economic factors than terrorism. Even before the Bataclan, a good performance was expected from the National Front”

● “We have to offer an alternative — it’s not lax spending — it’s the political and economic vision that Barack Obama had in the US: growth growth growth”

● “We can defeat this demagogy, apathy and populism by betting on the growth and employment of a new social Europe, with more values, more culture, more ideals, more beauty. We have to be careful with our finances, but it has to be less about commas and decimal points”

austerity chart

On Italian politics

● “If someone looks at the Spanish results one has to say, thankfully we are changing the electoral law. The remarks by the Spanish leaders last night seemed like the remarks of the Italians in 2013, it seemed yesterday’s Italy but it was today’s Spain. But tomorrow’s Italy will have a winner. Will it be Matteo? Beppe? Silvio? I don’t care, but there will be a winner”

● “I am not worried in Italy. I live the Italian situation with great tranquillity. We’re the only country where the left keeps winning — some polls say the Democratic Party could lose a few points compared to the European elections, but before the European elections the polls were even worse than today. I sleep well, between three pillows. The Italian government will last four years, and we’re half way through”

On Angela Merkel

● “I have esteem for Angela, we have an excellent personal relationship — and contrary to some of my predecessors I don’t believe that if Italy hasn’t worked in the past it is Angela Merkel’s fault. It’s of Italy and Italians, full stop. But having said this, the Latins used to say ‘Plato’s a friend but truth is even more of a friend’ — which means we have to be frank — what is Europe good for if, first of all, Germany gets in trouble with this approach? While the US over the past seven years has seen growth in GDP and employment, many European countries have struggled. Europe has to serve all 28 countries, not just one”

On Italy’s new credibility

● “People used to grimace when Italy spoke, but that era is over. There’s another Italy now which is in a position to say what it thinks of Europe” 

● “They want to depict Italy as a country that doesn’t respect the rules, but things are changing. In Italy, there’s a new generation and a new government. We respect all the rules, the difference is we are asking others to respect them too”

On the Nord Stream pipeline dispute

Map: Nord Stream pipeline

● “You decide to cancel South Stream, OK. In the meantime Italy has made big energy investments in Africa — we have our big strategy. So we say no to South Stream and then all of a sudden, quietly, we discover Nord Stream. The first Nord Stream isn’t even at full capacity. So why are they doing the second? Who decided? Is that an EU energy policy choice? At the table, when I raised it, only Germany and Holland defended it. I understand this is important business, fine, I’m not scandalised — but I want to say either the rules apply to everyone, or no one”

On migrant identification

● “I am for respecting the rules. I only said, if you write a letter to Italy with an infraction proceeding on fingerprinting migrants, fine: not always in the past have we taken fingerprints. But now we are: now we take fingerprints, we take pictures and check the irises. We can’t do more. Has [this letter] been sent to others? Between July and August, Germany took in migrants and didn’t take fingerprints. Because Merkel said, ‘first solidarity then bureaucracy’. What is valid for Italy has to be valid for Germany”

On the Italian banking system

● “It’s not Europe’s fault if the banks are finding themselves in these conditions. My predecessor’s Italy put money in to save Spain’s banks but not to save Italy’s banks. This was Italy’s choice, if I had been prime minister I would have done things differently”

● “Banca Intesa is capitalised twice as much as Deutsche Bank. We have to sort out a few small situations but the Italian banking system is superior: I would not trade the Italian banking system for the German one, with that system of Sparkassen. For God’s sake, I don’t want to have anything to do with [that] — I would copy other things from them”

On the controversial rescue of Banca Etruria and three other small banks

● “The reality is there were EU rules and we had to respect them. We had a letter from [financial services commissioner Jonathan] Hill and [competition commissioner Margrethe] Vestager telling us what we could do and what we couldn’t do. If we had used a different mechanism we would have created more tensions in the banking sector — also because Italian banks are very solid”

● “We applied the bail-in, for the first time. Europe should, however, reflect on the bail-in. Are we able to handle the bail-in? Yes, we had trouble, we had tensions, we had problems . . . but the numbers were very small. The problems of the bail-in aren’t really about Italy, they are about other countries. I’m not worried about Italy on the bail-in but my impression is they will have to run a few numbers in Brussels. They know it”

On the controversy swirling around minister Maria Elena Boschi, whose father was vice-chairman of Banca Etruria

● “Just to give you an idea of what kind of government we are, we are the ones who got rid of the board, including the vice-chairman’s job: Padoan signed the receivership. This gives you a sense that this is a different kind of Italy compared to the past. And the minister told parliament that she loves her father, but the rules apply to all”

● “How can you say there is a conflict of interest when the father was placed under receivership and the bank’s shares were reduced to zero by our decree and the Bank of Italy penalised the board, including the father? Once upon a time there was the Italy of ad personam rules [laws made for the benefit of one person], now that’s no longer true”.

On the 2016 budget

● “We didn’t ask for anything more [from Brussels] than what we could have asked for [under the new flexibility guidelines]. Actually we asked for a bit less and on this Pier Carlo Padoan [the finance minister] has been a guarantee of stability and wisdom”

● “Our debt will fall next year and our deficit is under 2.5 per cent. Germany has a trade surplus of 8 per cent, and the rules say it should be 6 per cent at most”

On the role of Cassa Depositi and Prestiti as engine of Italian industrial policy

● “I don’t decide [the investments], the policies of CDP are set by the chairman and CEO of CDP and there I chose two people of high quality, two bankers with international professionalism, [Claudio] Costamagna and [Fabio] Gallia. What strategic mission did the government give them? To be even closer to the model of their counterparts in France and Germany. What they decide will depend on them. I didn’t put two seasoned international bankers in there to tell them what to do. This is a sign of the new Italy, of 30-year old ministers, and people of high authority to come and give their service, this is a strong, fearless, free Italy that can’t be blackmailed”

On the Libya peace deal and a possible military intervention

● “Whether we need to support militarily the government in Libya will depend on the Libyan government’s demands and the UN charter. We are ready to support the democratic process in Libya. When there is a government in Libya, any mission will be in support of them and with them”

● “But we want to do things without making the mistakes of the past, when the international communities moved without a strategic vision. When you intervene militarily, you have to think of the aftermath, not just the immediate”

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