Eurozone finance chiefs to talk Italy as sanctions threat looms


Eurogroup President Mario Centeno said the finance ministers will discuss the European Commission's opinion on Italy's spending plans and not take any decisions today as the bloc is in the process of getting a reply from the Italian government.

The ministers met in Brussels for the first time since the European Commission rejected Rome's 2019 budget and demanded a rewrite.

Mr Stehn's analysis comes after Commissioner Moscovici reiterated Rome must understand European Union fiscal rules can not be broken with the bumper spending plan.

Italy's deputy prime minister told the Financial Times in an interview published Sunday that he believes Rome's controversial spending plans will become "a recipe" for reviving European growth and that the continent is ready to abandon austerity and embrace the deficit-busting approach of U.S. president Donald Trump.

Rome remains committed to reduce its debt ratio and hopes to reach a compromise with the European Commission, Finance Minister Giovanni Tria told his peers at the Eurogroup, according to an Italian government official.

Top Eurocrats have been engaged in a raging battle of wills with Italian eurosceptic leaders Matteo Salvini and Luigi di Maio after European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici rejected the budget proposal. "Italy's budget is substantially deviating from the requirements so it would also require substantial adjustment", he said.

Moscovici said no decision had been taken yet on how to proceed because Italy still had a week to change its budgetary plans before a November 13 deadline.

"We are a rules-based club, and it makes us more resilient and stronger", Kazimir told reporters in Brussels.

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The finance ministers released their statement on Italy, saying: "We agree with the commission assessment", and that "the focus on sufficient debt reduction and the path to the medium-term budgetary objective are an integral part of the stability and growth pact".

Last month, the European Commission asked Italy to revise its 2019 draft budget plan, which envisioned high public spending.

The government - a coalition of Salvini's League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement - plans to run a public deficit of 2.4 percent of GDP, three times the target of its centre-left predecessor.

Italy already owes 2.3 trillion euros ($2.6 trillion), a sum equivalent to 131 percent of its GDP, and even if Brussels fails to punish Rome, many assume the markets will. "Italy will never kneel again".

A further complicating factor was last week's news that Italy's economy recorded zero growth in the third quarter of the year.

The coalition's 2019 budget is based on the country experiencing an annual growth of 1.5 percent - a figure considered optimistic by the International Monetary Fund, which has forecast only one percent.

The much-watched "spread" - the gap between German and Italian bond yields -has grown to around 300 basis points, up from around 130 in the first quarter of 2018, as the markets demand higher returns to put their money in Rome.