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Italy’s Debt Crisis Flares Up, Banks Get Hit, as Showdown with the EU Intensifies

Italy’s Debt Crisis Flares Up, Banks Get Hit, as Showdown with the EU Intensifies

Who will blink first?

A serious showdown is brewing in the Eurozone as Italy’s anti-establishment coalition government takes on the EU establishment in a struggle that could have major ramifications for Europe’s monetary union. The cause of the discord is the Italian government’s plan to expand Italy’s budget for 2019, in contravention of previous budget agreements with Brussels.

The government has set a public deficit target for next year of 2.4% of GDP, three times higher than the previous government’s pledge. It’s a big ask for a country that already boasts a debt-to-GDP ratio of 131%, the second highest in Europe behind Greece. To justify its ambitious “anti-poverty” spending plans, proposed tax cuts, and pension reforms, the government claims that Italy’s economic growth will outperform EU forecasts.

Brussels is having none of it. EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker urged Italy’s Economy Minister Giovanni Tria to desist. “After having really been able to cope with the Greek crisis, we’ll end up in the same crisis in Italy,” he said. “One such crisis has been enough… If Italy wants further special treatment, that would mean the end of the euro. So you have to be very strict.”

On Wednesday ECB President Mario Draghi held a private meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in Rome, at which he reportedly raised concerns about Italy’s public finances, the upcoming budget bill, and related stock-exchange and bond-market turbulence.

The meeting evoked memories of the backroom machinations that Draghi, together with his predecessor, Jean Claude Trichet, undertook to engineer the downfall of Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi in 2011 and his replacement with technocrat Mario Monte, after Berlusconi had posited pulling Italy out of the euro during Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.

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