Thu, Oct 25, 2018 - Page 7 News List

EU rejects Italy’s draft budget

DEFIANT:Top Italian officials say the sharp increase in expenditure is needed to jump-start growth after years of malaise, as the EU demands Rome revise its budget


The EU on Tuesday set up a high-stakes battle with Italy over who has final control over a member state’s budget after the EU Commission took the unprecedented step of ordering Rome to revise its public spending plans.

In a move that escalates a monthlong standoff, the EU said the Italian government’s budget for next year is out of line and breaks earlier promises to lower public debt.

Italy’s debt load is the second-highest in Europe, after Greece, and there are worries that losing control of spending could rekindle financial turmoil in Europe.

The populist Italian government says the sharp increase in spending is needed to jump-start growth after years of malaise.

“We see no alternative but to request the Italian government to revise its draft budgetary plan,” EU Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said.

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini was quick to warn the EU to keep its hands off.

“No one will take 1 euro [US$1.14] from this budget,” he said.

The confrontation laid bare the fundamental problem within the eurozone, where 19 nations share the same currency, yet governments maintain autonomy over spending priorities and the EU has been reluctant to enforce spending limits.

Since the euro economy can be destabilized when one member state loses control of its finances, like Greece did a decade ago, the other nations want to have some say over excessive spending, especially when it concerns the region’s third-biggest economy.

The EU Commission said it had no choice after Italy proposed a deficit of 2.4 percent of GDP for next year — three times more than what it had previously targeted.

The higher deficit means Italy would not fulfill its promise to lower its debt, which is over 130 percent of GDP and more than twice the EU limit of 60 percent.

Without a tough stance on the issue, the EU could see its credibility erode and markets could lose confidence in its ability to keep public spending in check.

The commission wrote in its official opinion that “given the size of the Italian economy within the euro area, the choice of the government to increase the budget deficit ... creates risks of negative spillovers for the other euro area member states.”

EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs Pierre Moscovici highlighted how Italy’s budget would hurt its own people by saddling the young with higher debt payments.

The cost of servicing Italian public debt is already equal to the country’s entire spending on education — 65 billion euros a year.

“Italy must continue its effort to lower its debt because it is the enemy of the economy,” he said.

The EU said it had already been lenient enough with Italy in recent years, giving it 30 billion euros worth of wiggle room in its spending plans, as well as investment funds.

The commission wants the Italian government to produce a new budget proposal within three weeks.

Italy says the spending increase is needed to get growth going and fulfill electoral promises. The extra money is to be spent on restoring pensions to as many as 400,000 people whose retirement age had been pushed back and on a basic income for some jobseekers.

“We know that we are the last line of defense for social rights of Italians and for this, we won’t let you down. We know that if we would give up, that the experts for the banks and austerity would return, so we will not give up,” Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi di Maio wrote on Facebook.

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