Italy returning to growth, says Finance Minister

Rome, March 1 (IANS/AKI) The 0.9 percent expansion of the economy in 2016 reported by central statistics agency Istat on Wednesday signals that Italy is returning to growth, Italy’s Finance Minister Paier Carolo Padoan said.

“The data shows that growth is continuing to accelerate,” Padoan told Italy’s public broadcaster’s TG1 news bulletin.

“And the deficit is continuing to come down in an orderly way,” he added.

Istat figures released on Wednesday showed Italy’s budget deficit was 2.4 percent of GDP last year, within the European Union’s 3 percent ceiling and in line with government’s latest target.

Padoan also claimed Italy’s public debt – the highest in the euro zone after Greece’s – was “stabilising” after Istat reported it had hit a new record high last year at 132.6 percent of GDP, up from 132.0 percent in 2015.

“This good news for Italians, but more needs to be done,” he said.

The European Commission is worried about Italy’s failure to rein in its massive debt and Padoan has pledged that Rome will make 3.4 billion euros of cuts to the budget deficit before the end of April, as the EU executive has asked.

“The accuracy of the government’s forecasts and its respect of its commitments on the reduction of the deficit give Italy’s credibility,” Padoan tweeted earlier on Wednesday.

The most recent forecast by the Renzi government was for growth of 0.8 percent last year, the amount by which the Italian economy expanded in 2015.

The government is forecasting growth of 1.0 percent this year, an outlook in line with that of most independent think tanks.

Premier Paolo Gentiloni’s cabinet aims to continue with the growth strategy of the previous government headed by Matteo Renzi “based on structural reforms, public and private investment and social inclusion”, Padoan said.

The weak growth posted by the Italian economy over the past two years comes after it was mauled by the worst recession in the country’s post-war history. The country has suffered low growth for decades and remains among the most sluggish economies of the eurozone.