EU finance ministers urge Italy to respect debt pledges

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BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union finance ministers urged Italy Thursday to respect its pledges to bring its blown-out deficit back into line with EU rules amid threats of possible legal action against the country.

"We need to reassure everyone — Italian citizens, firms, European investors — that the commitment is there," said Mario Centeno, who as eurogroup president chairs meetings of the finance ministers from the 19 countries that use the euro currency.

The European Commission, which supervises the budget plans of the 28 EU member states, says that Italy's public debt stood at 132.2% of GDP in 2018, more than double the EU's 60% limit. And it's set to rise this year, to 135%.

Italy's debt burden equates to about 1,000 euros ($1,132) in servicing costs a year for every Italian citizen.

The commission is recommending that "excessive deficit procedure" be launched against Italy though any action, such as fining Rome, would require the endorsement of member states.

On Wednesday, senior commissioners urged Italy to provide any outstanding information it might have to justify its debt levels going forward.

"I urge Italy to grasp the hand extended to it by the European Commission," said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.

"There are rules in the eurozone. We're all trying to respect them — budgetary rules, debt rules. It's never easy to respect the rules," he said, "but it's important for all of us collectively."

Arriving at the eurogroup meeting, Italian Finance Minister Giovanni Tria told reporters that no new measures need to be taken to bring the debt down.

"We don't need them, otherwise we would do them. We already know how we can arrive naturally at that level," Tria said. "We will reach the deficit goals, because they put us in a position of security."


Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy contributed to this report.

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