'People more important' than figures: Italian PM

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Italian PM Enrico Letta with European Commission President Jose Barroso in Rome. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
11:19 CEST+02:00
Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta said Saturday that the government was more interested in people than economic figures, but promised the European Union that Italy would stick to its commitments.

"Sometimes finance ministers are more interested in numbers, for us people are more important than numbers," he told journalists following talks with European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso.

However, he said, "the measures which will be adopted in the coming weeks will all have their political and legal roots in the six recommendations from the European Union. It is an important political step, they will be the basis of the decisions we will take from now on."

The Commission issued recommendations to Italy to help it improve its economic performance, on issues such as public finances -- keeping its deficit in line with the 3.0 percent of GDP threshold, for example -- as well as employment schemes, the banking sector and the shadow economy.

Letta insisted Saturday that "Italy wants to keep the 3.0 percent as a reference point," after a warning from the European Central Bank on Thursday that the recession-hit country may go back over the mark if it fails to boost growth soon.

The eurozone's third largest economy did worse than thought in the first quarter of this year, shrinking by 0.6 percent instead of by 0.5 percent estimated previously.

On Friday, Rome hosted talks between Italy, France, Germany and Spain on the problem of youth unemployment, following which the four called for the release of a six billion euros ($8 billion) fund earmarked for the battle against joblessness in the 2014-20 European Union budget.

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"Today the fight against youth unemployment is the priority in the political European debate, it is now up to us" to tackle the problem, Letta said.

Italy youth jobless rate stands at 40.5 percent, behind Portugal (42.5 percent), Spain (56.4 percent) and Greece (62.5 percent).

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