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25th Feb 2017

Barroso to make sure Berlusconi keeps promises

  • Berlusconi: It is unclear what sanctions if any the commission has to keep him to his word (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Eurozone leaders have in a public paper and in private discussions tasked the European Commission with keeping Italy to a laundry list of promises on economic reform.

The euro summit declaration, published in the small hours of Thursday (27 October), devoted four paragraphs to recording what Italian leader Silvo Berlusconi earlier told peers he would do to stop Rome going bust.

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The euro declaration added: "We invite the commission to provide a detailed assessment of the measures and to monitor their implementation, and the Italian authorities to provide in a timely way all the information necessary for such an assessment."

Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso in the post-summit press briefing read out Italy's main pledges - such as balancing the budget by 2013 - and noted that Berlusconi is also bound by personal remarks made behind closed doors.

"The spirit of the meeting was clear - we had good exchanges about this with the prime minister of Italy and there was a very clear insistence of all the participants on the need to have concrete implementations of the agreed objectives," Barroso said.

The commission in a troika with the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank (ECB) already monitors economic policy in euro-countries under bail-outs - Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

But its solo role on Italy will be comparable only to its monitoring of Bulgaria and Romania on anti-corruption reforms.

Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly on Thursday underlined the novel nature of the arrangement, saying: "This is a first for monitoring a country not in a [EU-IMF] programme. This is enormous."

Italy and its €1.8 trillion debt is at the centre of market worries on eurozone stability.

Fear of an Italian default forced leaders on Thursday to boost the capacity of the EU's rescue fund, the EFSF, to €1 trillion and prompted the ECB to promise to keep buying Italian bonds.

It remains unclear how Brussels will actually hold Berlusconi to his word, however.

The Italian premier on the eve of the summit shot off a press release saying nobody in the EU can "appoint themselves as supervisors" or "give lessons" to Rome.

The septuagenerian playboy's eccentric style of governance was on show on Sunday when he demanded live on TV that Italy's man on the ECB board make way for a Frenchman in a reshuffle.

"I don't know if the TV is the best way to send out such a message, but okay. Please don't ask me any more about Italian politics," French President Nicolas Sarkozy told media on Thursday.

Even if Berlusconi means what he says, his coalition partner, the nationalist Northern League, signed up to his reform pledges under extreme protest and remains unpredictable. Volatility in Rome was also highlighted on Wednesday when MPs threw punches at each other in parliament over pensions reform.

Italian daily La Repubblica the same day wrote that Berlusconi will step down in December or January, adding another layer of uncertainty. But the government denied the report.

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The European Central Bank has decided buy bonds from troubled eurozone countries after a five-month pause in a bid to stem the crisis from spilling to Italy and Spain.

Italy: Euro crisis meeting could strain coalition

Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi's coalition government is to face a major test at 6pm local time on Monday, when ministers meet to push through austerity measures under pressure from fellow EU leaders.

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EU monetary affairs commissioner Olli Rehn is to be given extra powers to supervise national fiscal policies, as the commission moves quickly to centralise economic governance powers in Brussels.

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