December 18, 2017 / 5:46 PM / a year ago

5-Star leader says Italy should quit euro unless rules change

FILE PHOTO: 5-Star movement leader Luigi Di Maio speaks during the final rally for a regional election in Palermo, Italy, November 3, 2017. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane/File Photo

ROME (Reuters) - The leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio, said on Monday that Italy should quit the euro zone unless it manages to change the bloc’s rules on public finances.

5-Star, which leads in opinion polls ahead of an election expected in March, says if it wins power it will lobby Italy’s EU partners to loosen the so-called Fiscal Compact which imposes steep budget cuts for high-debt countries like Italy.

The maverick party threatens to hold a referendum on Italy’s euro membership unless it is allowed to boost public investment and raise the budget deficit above the current limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product.

Di Maio has recently softened the party’s anti-euro rhetoric, saying 5-Star is “pro-Europe” and calling the euro referendum a “last resort” to be used only if Italy is unable to win any concessions.

“If we should arrive at the referendum, which for me is a last resort because first I want to go to Europe and try to change a series of rules ... it’s clear that I would vote to leave, because it would mean Europe hasn’t listened to us on anything” he said in a television interview on Monday.

“But today I see an opportunity for Europe (to reform)”, he told the private station La7.

Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, the leader of the ruling Democratic Party (PD), said in a tweet that “this time Di Maio has been clear... he would vote to leave the euro. I say it would be madness for the Italian economy.”

The PD, which has split under Renzi’s leadership, lags 5-Star by some 4 percentage points in most opinion polls, but no party or coalition is seen winning an outright majority at the election, which is expected to result in a hung parliament.

Reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Crispian Balmer

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