November 21, 2018 / 11:52 AM / 9 months ago

UPDATE 1-EU Commission says Italy faces excessive deficit action

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BRUSSELS, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Italy’s 2019 budget fails to comply with euro zone rules and so the government should face action from the European Union to reduce its deficit, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

“The debt criterion ... should be considered as not complied and ... a debt-based Excessive Deficit Procedure is thus warranted,” Valdis Dombrovskis, the Commission’s vice president for the euro, told reporters.

“Euro area countries are in the same team and should be playing by the same rules,” he added. “These rules are there to protect us. They provide certainty, stability and mutual trust.”

Dombrovskis said the EU executive stood ready for dialogue with Italy’s populist government, which has defended its plans to slow Rome’s efforts to cut its massive public debt to boost economic growth.

Economics commissioner Pierre Moscovici described Italy’s move as “particularly serious”.

The EU can ultimately fine Italy if fellow governments agree with the Commission’s assessment — something they have so far done through a series of warnings to Rome from Brussels.

However, the Italian coalition parties have benefited from their head-on confrontation with the EU and do not appear minded to change tack soon, ahead of elections to the European Parliament in May.

The Commission said in its assessment of Italy’s 2019 budget that, at 131 percent of GDP in 2017, or 37,000 euros per Italian, Rome’s public debt is well beyond the target of 60 percent set for the euro zone — though it is not alone in that.

It criticised changes to planned pension reforms aimed at curbing public spending and there was a “risk of significant deviation” from a recommended path for Italy to reduce its debt. (Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; editing by John Stonestreet)

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