Sunday, 18 November, 2018

Rome Challenges the European Union with Plan to Increase Its Budget Deficit

REUTERS  Lisi Niesner Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte defies EU with debt-laden budgetREUTERS Lisi Niesner
Pablo Mccormick | 18 October, 2018, 11:46

Late on October 15 the coalition approved the 2019 budget bill that boosts welfare spending, cuts the retirement age and hikes deficit spending.

European authorities are already shown to be critical to the figures made public by Italy at the beginning of the month, especially as the public deficit, expected to reach next year to 2.4% of the gross domestic product (GDP).

Italy's budget, which was submitted to the European Commission Monday ahead of a midnight deadline, includes controversial measures that were promised by the anti-immigration Lega party and anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) ahead of the last general election in March. This is three times more than the 0.8 percent that the Italian previous government had agreed with the European Commission, and it could become even more, as the 2.4 percent forecast is based on the Italian government's highly optimistic assumptions about economic growth. Italy's debt load is the largest in Europe in absolute terms and second only to Greece's as a percentage of the economy.

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Brussels is concerned that Italy's budget will increase the country's deficit. Tria said he expects "continued dialogue" with the Commission over Italy's plans.

"If we accepted the slip, some European countries would cover us with insults and tirades with the accusation we are being too flexible with Italy", Juncker told Italian media. "On the strength of this position, we go to Brussels with a budget that we are proud of and that we want to discuss without prejudices".

The Commission will now assess the fiscal framework - a separate document from the budget law - over two weeks, and could dismiss it and ask Rome to draw up a new one. Juncker recalled that recent surveys suggest that the majority of Italian people are in favour of Italy being in the eurozone.

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"The euro is built on decisions taken at many various moments and places". The problem for Italy, however, is that Brussels has the power to send back the budget if it does not believe Italy is fulfilling its obligations.

"I do hope that at the end the war of words (will end) and that good sense will prevail and everyone will notice that this kind of budget is exactly what Italy needs to cope with its chronic lack of growth", he said in a televised interview with CNBC.

The Italian government is also set to introduce a more punitive tax regime for banks, heightening pressure on a sector that is suffering due to a spike in the country's debt costs under the populist government.

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