March 8, 2018 / 2:58 PM / a year ago

Italian president says citizens are priority after inconclusive vote

FILE PHOTO: Italian President Sergio Mattarella leaves at the end of his consultations at the Quirinale Palace in Rome, Italy, December 10, 2016. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo

ROME (Reuters) - Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Thursday called for politicians to act responsibly, as parties jockeyed to form a government after an inconclusive election.

Mattarella, who is usually limited to a ceremonial role but must now step into the political ring and broker a deal between rivals, made the appeal in his first public address since Sunday’s vote delivered a hung parliament.

“We - and this means everyone - still need and will always need this approach: a sense of responsibility that allows us to make the general interest of the country and its citizens the priority,” Mattarella said in a speech at the presidential palace in Rome.

No party or group won an absolute majority, pitching Italy into political uncertainty just as European authorities warned against ramping up spending and driving higher Europe’s second-biggest debt as a percentage of output.

A right-wing alliance dominated by the eurosceptic League won the most seats, followed by the anti-system 5-Star Movement, which emerged as the biggest single party by a wide margin.

Both 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio and the League’s Matteo Salvini have laid claim to the prime minister’s job. But the final decision rests with the often-inscrutable president, who must persuade bitter rivals to find common ground and work together to form a government.

Ahead of the vote, all the main parties pledged to cut taxes, hike spending and raise the budget deficit from levels agreed with the EU, while simultaneously promising to cut debt.

Aware that the threat of deterioration in Italy’s public finances could weigh on the euro, the EU’s executive also had a word of warning for Italy’s leaders on Thursday.

“Especially for Italy, a country that has the second-highest debt-to-GDP ratio after Greece in the EU, it’s important to stay on course as regards responsible fiscal policies,” European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said.

Reporting by Isla Binnie; Additional reporting by Huw Jones in London; Editing by Andrew Roche

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