Salvini dismisses EU debt warning, promising to cut taxes anyway

Italy's debt is more than 130 percent of total economic output, way above the EU's 60-percent limit.

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    Italy's Matteo Salvani, leader of the country's populist Five Star Movement, plans to keep spending public money to boost the economy despite a growing mountain of debt [Bloomberg}
    Italy's Matteo Salvani, leader of the country's populist Five Star Movement, plans to keep spending public money to boost the economy despite a growing mountain of debt [Bloomberg}

    Matteo Salvini, the de facto leader of the Italian government, has a message for the European Union's budget police: his administration won't back down from its plan to cut taxes, regardless of their threats.

    The deputy prime minister and leader of the pro-business League said that "growth-friendly" polices are the only way to reduce the nation's debt, hours after the EU Commission took the first step toward financial penalties for Italy over its public finances.

    Salvini said in a statement that the government in Rome must adopt policies -- including his signature "flat-tax" program -- that aren't inspired by the austerity approach of the previous government.

    "With cuts, sanctions and austerity, the levels of debt, poverty, insecurity and unemployment have increased," Salvini said. "We must do the opposite."

    Seeking to take the high road in a back-and-forth tussle with Brussels, Salvini said that under his populist coalition with the Five Star Movement, Italy is now a country that "wants to invest in work, growth, research and infrastructure." The League leader also said he expects that "in Brussels, they will respect this will."

    Salvini and coalition partner Luigi Di Maio of Five Star have clashed regularly -- and often bitterly -- in just over a year in government together, with the vitriol reaching its peak in the run-up to European parliament elections last month. On Wednesday, though, the two were in tune, as Di Maio also called for higher spending and tax cuts to stimulate the economy.

    Di Maio, also a deputy premier, said on Facebook that Italian government representatives will "go to Europe and sit around a table with responsibility, not to destroy but to build." Still, it's "inconceivable" that a country with high unemployment that wants to invest in growth is penalized, Di Maio said.

    SOURCE: Bloomberg