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Leave it to the top-level of EU politics to do their utmost to make a difficult situation worse. It is a well-known fact, that the EU is worried about the rise of what it calls ‘populism’, and that Italy is the latest country where it is seen to be on the rise. The EU has already been accused of interfering with Italian politics. So the last thing you need, is the EU’s (unelected) top dog running off his mouth in an interview and generating headlines such as:

Juncker: Italians need to work harder and be less corrupt.

Because that really gets everybody’s knickers in a twist. Rightly so. This is spreading prejudices. It is the sort of thing the EU very openly says it fights, being peddled by its leader. Just imagine the outrage if this had come from the White House. Well, you don’t really need to imagine: there has been outrage. But it is unlikely we will see any of it this time.

Even the European Parliaments chairman Tajani, who happens to be Italian, demanded an immediate retraction from the EC’s president.

Of course, Juncker has back-pedalled already, having his ‘deputy chief spokeswoman’ issue a “clarification” on Twitter that does little to qualify the statement, and offers no apology.

The ‘clarification’ does point out something that seems to have been lost in most comments: that from now on it’s going to be member states first, EU second. As The Guardian quotes Juncker:

Italians have to take care of the poor regions of Italy. That means more work; less corruption; seriousness. We will help them as we always did. But don’t play this game of loading with responsibility the EU. A country is a country, a nation is a nation. Countries first, Europe second.

This remark is so very out-of-character it hurts. The EU is constantly insisting that it knows best. The EU perceives discrimination (not against Southern Italians of course)? It organises an entire program to combat discrimination and constantly tells the member states they must do better based on, at best, observation from afar. The European Commission wants the power to decide if the rule of law in member states is good enough for EU funding. It contributes a small percentage of the budget for a fuel cell program for buses? The EU has made buses powered by water!

But when the political wind in the EU’s third economy is not blowing in the direction it wants, all of a sudden it’s “don’t be so lazy and corrupt,” and “figure it out for yourselves. Nothing to do with us.”

And they wonder why ‘populism’ and ‘Euroscepticism’ are taking such a flight.