(Bloomberg) -- Italian Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini was cornered on UniCredit SpA’s potential interest in Germany’s Commerzbank AG.
On Friday, he made his first public comment on the possible cross-border merger when asked a question at the Foreign Press Association in his hometown Milan. But he limited himself to expressing patriotic pride at a prospect that has triggered unease within the populist government and his League party.
“As an Italian it would fill me with pride to see that UniCredit, like others such as Fincantieri, could compete at a continental level,” Salvini said. “In principle, I see nothing strange about this. Usually it’s the opposite, it’s foreign companies that come to Italy to do their shopping.”
Salvini, a champion of the Trumpian slogan “Italy First,” has repeatedly lashed out at the European Union and Germany this week ahead of the May 26 European Parliament vote.
Yet Salvini was reluctant to be drawn further. “Don’t make me say something that’s going to get me in trouble, I already have enough legal troubles,” Salvini quipped.
Read more: Maneuvering on Commerzbank Stirs Up Italy-Germany Tensions
Salvini’s public stand clashed with private comments by Italian officials who are bristling over German hostility toward the prospect of Commerzbank falling into Italian hands. Berlin has demanded that any acquirer move its headquarters to Germany.
Salvini has turned the EU deficit and debt rules into a priority of his European campaign, unsettling financial markets and clashing with his populist ally-turned-rival in the Rome government.
Salvini on Friday ramped up his attack on the EU, calling for an overhaul of the bloc’s banking rules. He denounced what he called “the rules that are strangling the European economy.”
Taking aim at rules limiting deficits and debt, Salvini said, “I’d go back to pre-Maastricht, with more normal economic and fiscal rules, when we talked about well-being and full employment,” Salvini said. “The directive on banks should be reviewed, because it puts the whole banking system at risk, the directive on services should be reviewed” and so should “fiscal rigidity” limits.
Salvini earlier Friday targeted at Germany. “We need to change some rules in Europe, above all on banks,” he told CRC radio. “Europe was tailor-made by the Germans, by big corporations.” He pledged to “change the rules in Italy’s favor.”
Salvini also fired a shot at Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, leader of Germany’s CDU party after she told newspaper la Repubblica earlier Friday that she is “concerned about rising anti-European sentiment also via support for the League.” Salvini said: “They’ve realized that we’ve woken up.”
--With assistance from Chiara Albanese, Tommaso Ebhardt, Flavia Rotondi and James Hertling.
To contact the reporters on this story: Marco Bertacche in Milan at firstname.lastname@example.org;Dan Liefgreen in Milan at email@example.com;John Follain in Rome at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ben Sills at email@example.com, Flavia Krause-Jackson
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.