Wednesday

17th Oct 2018

Italian rivals say country should stay in euro

  • Di Maio (c): "No longer right moment for Italy to leave" (Photo: camera.it)

Two leading opposition figures in Italy have said the country should stay in the euro, soothing tension around this year's big domestic EU election.

"I believe it is no longer the right moment for Italy to leave the euro," Luigi Di Maio, the head of the 5-Star Movement, said on Italian TV on Tuesday (9 January).

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  • Berlusconi trying to make a comeback from scandals (Photo: Nela Lazarevic)

He said "there will be more space for Italy" to steer EU policy in future because "the Franco-German axis is no longer as strong as before".

The 5-Star Movement had previously called for a referendum on the single currency, but it rowed back from that position in recent months, with Di Maio saying on Tuesday that "a referendum is a last resort, which I hope to avoid".

Di Maio's party is in the lead ahead of the general elections on 4 March with 28 percent of support, according to a survey by pollster Tecne Italia out on Monday.

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's former leader, also defended euro membership on Tuesday.

Berlusconi, who crashed out of Italian politics in sex and fraud scandals seven years ago, is trying to make a comeback by teaming up with the far-right Northern League party led by Matteo Salvini.

"Salvini is no longer of the idea that we should leave the euro … He has understood that it would be technically impossible and unsustainable for our economy," Berlusconi said on Italian radio.

The Berlusconi-Salvini bloc, which also includes two minor parties, the far-right Brothers of Italy and the centre-right Us with Italy, is forecast to win the most votes with 39 percent combined.

But the Northern League immediately refuted Berlusconi's comments, posing questions on the unity of the grouping.

"One second after the League is in government, it will begin all possible preparations to arrive at our monetary sovereignty. It's a question of national security," Claudio Borghi, the party's economics spokesman, said on TV also on Tuesday.

The pro-EU centre-left bloc, which is led by the Democratic Party of prime minister Paolo Gentiloni and which includes three smaller parties, is polling at 28 percent combined.

Raw nerves

Tuesday's euro debate in Italy is likely to calm nerves on the future of the eurozone's third-largest economy and on broader EU stability.

The EU, earlier last year, looked like it could break apart due to the Brexit referendum and the rise of anti-euro parties in France, Germany, and Italy.

Eurosceptics are preparing to fight in presidential elections in the Czech Republic and in Finland later this month.

Hungary's enfant terrible, Viktor Orban, is likely to retain power in spring and the far-right Sweden Democrats party is set to do well in Swedish elections in September.

But the main anti-EU forces lost in French and German elections in 2017, leaving the Italian vote as the last big threat on the horizon.

For his part, Carlo Calenda, a prominent figure in Gentiloni's government, warned on Tuesday that the 5-Star Movement or the Berlusconi bloc could still do a lot of damage if they got into power.

Berlusconi has pledged to boost pensions and cut taxes despite Italy's sky-high debt.

Di Maio has pledged to create a universal citizens' income and to meet all of Italy's energy needs via renewable sources.

Doing damage

"The image that we will give is that we are no longer ready to face the challenge coming from the reality of our financial situation," Calenda told the Bloomberg news agency, referring to Berlusconi's programme.

"This will gives us less access to the markets and will cause a lot of entrepreneurs, foreign entrepreneurs that want to invest in Italy, to reconsider investments," he said.

He said Di Maio's ideas were "not feasible at all".

"I think that their proposal is mainly escape from reality and to escape from reality in the context of our financial situation that remains difficult is a potential disaster," Calenda said.

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Bulgaria joining the single currency "will not result in any additional risk for the euro system", its finance minister said. The country's lev currency has been pegged to the euro since 1997, making it already highly dependent on ECB policy.

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