Thursday, 18 April, 2019

EU's Tusk hopes euro zone reform progress possible despite Italy

Italy's proposed budget at odds with EU limits | Money Talks Debt Conflict: European Commission Rejects Italian Draft Budget
Leonard Rios | 19 October, 2018, 19:54

Arriving at the EU summit in Brussels, Conte acknowledged that budget plans to boost welfare spending, cut the retirement age and hike the deficit were unlikely to please the European Commission, which polices euro zone states' fiscal policies.

The Commission says the budget will push up Italy's public debt which stood at 131 percent of GDP past year, the highest in the euro zone after Greece's.

Italian government bond yields dropped across the board, and the gap between the yield on the 10-year benchmark and its German equivalent narrowed.

Italy is bracing itself for a clash with the European Commission over its spending plans.

The Italian budget is set to increase spending largely to pay for the minimum basic income proposed by the Five Star Movement but Juncker said he would not condemn the specific policy, saying: "If I said that we are against those measures, this would have as a outcome that some in the Italian government would attack the Commission because it prohibits fighting against poverty".

Italy's membership of the European Union was "unrenounceable". The draft budget increases Italy's 2019 deficit to 2.4% of GDP, which is three-times higher than an EU-mandated target.

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At the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said fiscal rules should be respected by all, adding: "Too much debt is risky". One of the key forecasts in the budget is that Italy's high debt to GDP ratio, of around 130 percent now, will decline to 126.7 percent of GDP in 2021.

"I don't want us to overdramatize this budget issue, but I want us to return to the application of the European Union rules, not in a strict fashion, but in a fair and wise way", Juncker said.

Brussels is concerned that Italy's budget will increase the country's deficit. "I did NOT say there is a Commission decision on #Italy, nor that a letter w/ a rejection is being sent this Thursday Friday #Italien #Salvini", he wrote, in English via Twitter.

Alessandro Tentori, chief investment officer for Italy at Axa Investment Managers, told CNBC Tuesday that there was so far little detail in the budget about growth and investment projects. "I don't think it will happen, but the result of such erroneous speculation can be very bad".

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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