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1ST LEAD Italy's Renzi hails Macron, calls for softer EU budget discipline By Alvise Armellini, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Rome (dpa) - French President Emmanuel Macron is a "blessing" for the European Union, while the bloc‘s budget discipline rules should be relaxed, former Italian premier and centre-left leader Matteo Renzi said Tuesday.

Renzi‘s ruling Democratic Party (PD) is struggling in polls ahead of March 4 general elections. A rightist bloc led by ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi is in the lead, followed by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S).

"Europe needs growth policies, not just austerity policies," Renzi told the Foreign Press Association in Rome.

Tighter budget discipline introduced from 2010 onwards as a response to the eurozone debt crisis, including the so-called Fiscal Compact, should be scrapped in favour of older Maastricht Treaty rules, the PD leader said.

"The ‘Back to Maastrict,‘ the return to the Maastricht parameters, is sacrosanct," and Italy needs "a gradual reduction in debt, not an immediate one, as called for by the prophets of austerity, which leads to sacrifices and kills the economy," Renzi said.

Eurozone members are supposed to strive for balanced budgets, but the rule has never been strictly enforced. Under Maastricht, they could run deficits of up to 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), and last year Italy ran a deficit of about 2.1 per cent.

With his remarks, Renzi joined other Italian election contenders in calling for more fiscal profligacy, despite their country having the second-largest public debt ratio in the EU after Greece, equal to more than 130 per cent of GDP.

But he insisted that his party was more credible than rivals on the economy. He described the PD as unquestionably "pro-euro," while Berlusconi is flirting with the "no euro" camp, and the M5S has a "dunno" stance on the single currency.

Speaking about wider reform prospects for the EU, Renzi said "the leadership of Emmanuel Macron a blessing for Europe," and celebrated the French leader‘s 2017 presidential victory as "an extraordinary historical fact."

Macron is a former socialist minister who found success after defecting and founding his own centrist party, "En Marche." He wants eurozone countries to forge closer political and economic ties, and is counting on Germany‘s support to this end.

Amid speculation that he is also considering a break from the Socialist family, Renzi dismissed a report by Politico Europe suggesting that his PD could leave the Socialist and Democrat group in the European Parliament to form a centrist group with "En Marche."

"I consider this more political gossip than having real substance," he said.


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