By Angelo Amante
ROME (Reuters) – The decision of Italy’s ruling League party not to back Ursula von der Leyen as the next European Commission president risks isolating the country in Europe, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Thursday in the latest sign of disagreement within the government.
Di Maio is the leader of the League’s coalition partner, the 5-Star Movement, which voted in favour of von der Leyen, a German conservative who takes the helm of the Commission, the EU executive, in November.
The clash within Italy’s ruling coalition over the EU vote could endanger Rome’s hopes of securing a top job in the new EU executive, political sources said.
“The League’s attitude risks isolating Italy in Europe”, the deputy prime minister said.
The League, led by Matteo Salvini, emerged as the country’s largest party in May’s European elections, and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said that it was up to the League to pick the country’s commissioner.
Rome’s hope was to obtain the competition portfolio with League’s cabinet secretary Giancarlo Giorgetti as a front runner.
In an interview with state-owned broadcaster RAI 1, Di Maio said that the League’s EU lawmakers did not support the German candidate as they had not received guarantees over the new Italian member.
The League has accused the allies of betraying the national interest by voting for von der Leyen but Di Maio hit back saying that the ruling partner was fighting for getting a seat rather than for a political idea.
“We backed her because she wants to implement the minimum salary in EU,” said Di Maio, adding that the League EU lawmakers “pulled back after they understood that they were unable to obtain a commissioner”.
The clash over the EU vote is not the sole cause of tensions between the two ruling parties.
After allegations that the League had sought illegal funding from Russia, reported by U.S. website Buzzfeed, the 5-Star and the opposition parties have called on Salvini to make a parliamentary statement.
The League’s leader bowed to demands saying he would take questions on the topic in regular question time.
However, Di Maio made clear he does not believe the League has received any money from Moscow.
“If I had the slightest suspicion that the League had taken money from Russia, I would not be in government with them”, he said.
The Russia case is the subject of a criminal investigation. Salvini has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and there is no evidence that a deal was struck.
(Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni and Angelo Amante, Editing by Gareth Jones, William Maclean)