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Meanwhile the so-called Frugal Four – defined as the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, and sometimes referred to as the Frugal Five with the addition of Finland – have been branded “selfish” for opposition to the EU’s £677billion coronavirus rescue fund which rendered it “less effective”. The warning was sounded by billionaire financier George Soros during the course of a wide-ranging interview in which he also suggested German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s attempt to lead Europe out of the crisis during the course of her country’s six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union was being hampered by internal opposition.
Mr Soros, who has donated billions to liberal causes via his Open Society Foundations, was speaking to Italian newspaper La Repubblica on the occasion of his 90th birthday.
Singling out the country of his birth, Hungary, led by Viktor Orban, and Poland for specific criticism, Mr Soros nevertheless stressed: “But actually my biggest concern is Italy.”
He explained: “A very popular anti-European leader, Matteo Salvini, was gaining ground until he overestimated his success and broke up the government.
“That was a fatal mistake. His popularity is now declining. But he has actually been replaced by Giorgia Meloni of Fratelli d’Italia, who is even more of an extremist.”
Mr Soros warned the situation would get worse for Brussels if the administration fronted by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ended up collapsing.
He said: “The current government coalition is extremely weak.
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“They are only held together to avoid an election in which the anti-European forces would win.
“And this is a country that used to be the most enthusiastic supporter of Europe.
“Because the people trusted the EU more than their own governments.”
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Two weeks after former Five Star Movement Senator Gianluigi Paragone announced the launch of his No Europe for Italy party, modelled on Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, Mr Soros said: “Now public opinion research shows that the supporters of Europe are shrinking and the support for remaining a member of the eurozone is diminishing.
“But Italy is one of the biggest members, it is too important for Europe. I cannot imagine a EU without Italy.
“The big question is whether the EU will be able to provide enough support to Italy.
Turning his attention to the marathon European Council meeting last month which approved the wide-ranging package of measures amidst huge wrangling between countries in the north and south of the bloc, Mr Soros said: “The EU took a very important positive step forward by committing itself to borrow money from the market on a much larger scale than ever before.
“But then several states, the so-called Frugal Five managed to make the actual agreement less effective.
“The tragedy is that they are basically pro-European, but they are very selfish. And they are very frugal.”
Their intervention had resulted in an “inadequate” deal which scaled back on commitments to climate change and defence policy, Mr Soros said.
He added: “They also want to make sure that the money is well spent. That creates problems for the southern states that were the hardest hit by the virus.”
As for Mrs Merkel, he added: “She is doing her best but she is up against a deeply ingrained cultural opposition: the German word Schuld has a double meaning.
“It means debt and guilt. Those who incur a debt are guilty. This doesn’t recognise that the creditors can also be guilty.
“It is a cultural issue that runs very, very deep in Germany. It has caused a conflict between being German and European at the same time.
“And it explains the recent decision of the German Supreme Court that is in conflict with the European Court of Justice.”
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