Italy PM says 'determined' to avoid EU debt procedure

Rome (AFP) –


Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Tuesday his government is determined to avoid triggering an EU procedure for excessive debt levels.

The European Commission last week put Italy on notice about its snowballing debt, as well as its deteriorating deficit position, reopening a political battle with Rome.

The move by the EU's executive arm against Italy's bloated budget begins a complicated process that -- if approved by eurozone ministers -- could result in an unprecedented fine of more than three billion euros ($3.4 billion), a prospect Conte said he hoped to avoid.

Italy's far right Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has vowed not to yield to the EU.

But Conte said that, when he met both Salvini and Deputy Prime Minister Luigi di Maio on Monday, both were "in complete agreement" that any procedure should be avoided.

"The negotiation with the European Commission and with our European Union partners will see the government absolutely determined to avoid, in the coming months, a procedure for excessive debt," Conte told a gathering of business leaders in Rome.

However, the coalition government is under pressure. Conte threatened last week to resign unless the two parties in the governing populist coalition -- Salvini's League and di Maio's Five Star Movement -- stopped squabbling.

"I want a clear, unequivocal and speedy response," Conte said, calling for "loyal collaboration" from all ministers.

Italy's debt ratio, at 132 percent of gross domestic product, is the second-biggest in the eurozone after Greece.