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Italian Deputy Prime Minister Salvini Blames Deadly Bridge Collapse on EU Budget Constraints

Gregory Viscusi / Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) — Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini seized on the collapse of a bridge in northern Italy to question whether his country should respect European Union budget constraints.

The failure of a roughly 50-year-old suspension bridge in Genoa shows how important it is to increase investment spending in Italy, Salvini told reporters Tuesday in Catania, Sicily, hinting that EU spending limits had put lives at risk.

“If external constraints prevent us from spending to have safe roads and schools, then it really calls into question whether it makes sense to follow these rules,” Salvini, who heads the euroskeptic League, said. “There can be no tradeoff between fiscal rules and the safety of Italians.”

At least 20 people were killed when the structure, part of the main highway running along Italy’s Mediterranean coast, gave way, the Associated Press reported.

The tragedy comes as Italy’s anti-establishment coalition is preparing its 2019 budget, with Salvini and his populist ally Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement already demanding want the EU bend its rules on deficit targets to allow them to boost spending and cut taxes. Previous Italian governments have long pressed for certain types of investment to be excluded from EU calculations and Salvini made it clear he plans to use the Genoa disaster to press that point.

In the coalition agreement presented in May, the League and Five Star said they’d seek a deal with other EU members and the European Commission to exclude some investments from deficit calculations to allow for “consolidating economic growth and the country’s development.”

Concerns that Five Star’s planned citizens income and the League’s flat tax would widen Italy’s budget deficit, combined with contagion from Turkey’s currency crisis, sent the spread between Italian and German bond yields to the widest since early June on Monday.