Italy wants to enlist France, Spain in push to change EU fiscal rules

ROME (Reuters) – Italy wants France and Spain to support its campaign to change the European Union’s fiscal rules and focus them more on growth in the face of a regional and global economic slowdown, Economy Minister Giovanni Tria said in remarks published on Friday.

Italy’s ruling coalition, forged a year ago by the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement and the right-wing League, has always been critical of the EU Fiscal Compact treaty, which in 2013 introduced stricter budget rules.

League leader and deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini blames them for impoverishing the country by forcing it to adopt austerity when more expansive fiscal policy is required.

Italy has the euro zone’s second biggest debt burden after Greece, proportionally, at more than 130% of economic output, and has twice in six months narrowly avoided EU disciplinary action after pursuing budget stimulus, including major new welfare measures.

In an interview with Italian daily La Stampa, Tria said EU states should review their priorities and denied that Italy was isolated in its push for a revision of the rules.

“Italy is certainly standing next to France and Spain and partially to Germany. There are the prerequisites for changing EU economic policies,” said Tria, a technocrat who is considered a moderate voice inside the government.

“Relaunching a debate over the Fiscal Compact is possible,” he added. “We need to discuss how to change these rules.”

France has not shown much public enthusiasm for Italy’s cause. On Friday, a French finance ministry source said the EU rules must be respected before members set about changing them.

“Before the rules can be changed, they must be respected,” the source said, adding that Paris was open “to any theoretical discussion”.

France has embarked on its own new budget spending and tax cuts, unveiling last year a package worth more than 10 billion euros ($11.3 billion) in response to prolonged street protests.

The European Commission pulled back from a debt procedure against Italy last week, a sign of Rome’s willingness to compromise but also of Brussels’ lenient interpretation of EU fiscal rules.

This week, euro zone finance ministers agreed by “broad consensus” to keep the zone’s fiscal stance unchanged at neutral for 2020, an approach that encourages heavily indebted states such as Italy to strengthen their finances and those nations in stronger fiscal positions to spend more.

($1 = 0.8886 euros)

(Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni in ROME and Leigh Thomas in PARIS; Editing by Mark Bendeich and Gareth Jones)

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