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The Latest: EU voices worries over Italy's budget deficit

October 18, 2018 - 10:24 AM

BRUSSELS - The Latest on Italy's plans to ramp up public spending (all times local):

7:20 p.m.

The EU budget chief Pierre Moscovici says the EU Commission and many member states are worried by Italy's spending plans that will see the country's budget deficit rise to 2.4 per cent of annual GDP.

Moscovici met Economy Minister Giovanni Tria in Rome to present a letter outlining concerns over Italy's draft budget.

The meeting came as Italy's premier wrapped up a day in Brussels explaining the Italian budget draft to Italy's partners, including the leaders of Germany, France and the Netherlands.

Moscovici told reporters that the European Commission will not interfere with Italy's choices, and that its role was one of "a referee, not an adversary of Italy."

Moscovici said Italy would be treated like any other member state, adding: "I cannot imagine a Europe without Italy or Italy without Europe."

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5:50 p.m.

EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker says the EU has always been generous with Italy when it comes to assessing its budget, but that the latest draft presented this week would be rigorously vetted to see if it meets EU standards.

Juncker said after Thursday's summit that some EU leaders had already approached him to make sure not to be too flexible when combing through the details of Italy's spending plans. The EU has limits for member states' deficits and debt levels.

Italy's budget proposal is considered out of line with commitments made earlier, with a proposed deficit of 2.4 per cent. While that is below the 3 per cent EU ceiling, it is still three times the amount initially promised. And it means Italy's debt load — which at over 130 per cent of GDP is well over the 60 per cent limit — will probably not be lowered as promised.

Juncker said: "I had some colleagues on the phone say they don't want us to add flexibility to already existing flexibility." He said the EU has no intention of doing so.

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5:10 p.m.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte says after a day of defending the country's budget plan to allies that there is no reason to fear the EU's criticisms.

Conte, in a post on Facebook Thursday, said that the measures are "well-considered, well-constructed and well-realized," and he said the draft was "the only instrument that we have to ensure economic growth and social development to our country."

Conte added that "we knew that these measures devised to satisfy the needs of Italian citizens, long unanswered, are not in line with the expectations of the European Commission," and that the Italian government was prepared to respond to comments.

Conte, who met with the leaders of Germany, France and the Netherlands on the summit sidelines, said that the measures were "indispensable if we want to change course."

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1:25 p.m.

The head of one of Italy's two ruling populist parties says unauthorized changes were made to the draft budget, suggesting a possible rift in the coalition government.

Luigi Di Maio, the head of the 5-Star Movement, on Thursday threatened to lodge a formal criminal complaint. He told a late-night talk show that the draft budget presented to President Sergio Mattarella's office contained a proposal to extend a tax amnesty on money held abroad and brought back to Italy. The 5-Star Movement opposes such a move as it risks laundering "corrupt or mafia capital."

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League party, called the accusation "surreal."

Premier Giuseppe Conte told reporters in Brussels that he would review the draft law line by line when he returns Friday to Rome. He denied a rift in the governing coalition.

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1:00 p.m.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is warning his Italian counterpart Giuseppe Conte not to break the budgetary rules set out by the European Union.

Rutte met with Conte at Thursday's EU summit, where Conte is on the defensive for filing a draft budget for 2019 that has a deficit level three times as large as Italy originally promised.

Rutte said in a statement that he expressed Dutch concerns regarding Italy's budget plans and said he was giving "full support" to the European Commission, which is vetting the draft after having expressed its skepticism.

Italian leaders say the budget plan will boost economic growth through higher spending, but other EU countries are concerned it will add to Italy's already heavy public debt load.

News from © The Associated Press, 2018
The Associated Press

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