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Merkel praises Italian premier for 'courage' with reforms

German chancellor says Renzi's Jobs Act goes in right direction

17 March, 19:36
Merkel praises Italian premier for 'courage' with reforms (see related) (ANSA) - Berlin, March 17 - German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday praised Italian premier Matteo Renzi's "courage" in making significant structural changes in Italy's economy. During the first bilateral meeting between the two since Renzi was made premier last month, Merkel said she looked at "all aspects" of Italy's reforms, adding she was impressed and wished Renzi "a lot of luck".

"It is was clear to me that Italy is paying attention to (fiscal) stability as well as to growth and employment". Last week unveiled reforms aimed to boost growth and productivity after emerging from recession, Italy's worst since World War II. Speaking after meeting with Merkel, Renzi said those reforms were made with Italy's best interests in mind, not Europe's. "Italy must stop thinking reforms have to be done because Brussels or Berlin or other capitals ask us. We'll do them because they're right for us," Renzi said.

He went on to call them "irreversible". "They won't be one-off but irreversible measures for change," Renzi said.

He also assured his German counterpart that such measures would not counteract the country's commitments to Europe, and insisted that Italy did not wish to breach the 3%-deficit-to-GDP threshold allowed by the EU. "Italy intends to respect all limits," said Renzi.

Merkel as well said that she was "certain" Italy will respect the European Union's Growth and Stability Pact including the 3% limit on Italy's deficit-to-GDP ratio. Turning to the labor market, Renzi called Germany's policies a "reference point" for Italy's plans to free up the labour market and create jobs. Despite Italy slowly coming out of recession since the second half of last year, unemployment continues to rise, nearing 13% across all demographics, and topping 40% for youth. Renzi on Monday said past efforts to create jobs through "precise and restrictive legislation have failed". "Now we need to change the rules of the game," added Renzi, as he went on to call the unemployment rate, especially among youth, "unacceptable".

Merkel then hailed Renzi's labour-market reform plans, saying the measures contained in his Jobs Act "go in the right direction". Renzi ended his reflection on the economy by pointing to a lack of growth as Italy's biggest problem. "Our problem is the lack of growth," especially when compared with the size of the debt, now just over 132% of gross domestic product (GDP), he said.

Finally, Renzi turned to foreign policy, where the crisis in Ukraine is the most pressing issue facing European leaders. Renzi said Italy, Germany and other European countries are working to keep open "strong channels of dialogue" with Ukraine.

He added that Sunday's referendum in Crimea on independence "was illegitimate".