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Renzi tries to calm fears of post-referendum economic meltdown

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Renzi tries to calm fears of post-referendum economic meltdown
Renzi speaking at Palazzo Chigi on Monday. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
09:12 CET+01:00
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi attempted on Monday to calm fears of a financial meltdown after an upcoming referendum on which he has staked his political future.

The centre-left premier, who has suggested he will step down if voters reject proposals to reform Italy's parliamentary system, said "there will still be a government, whether it it technical, political, super technical or super political".

He added: "We will do everything that has to be done to ensure Italy is ready to face its challenges."

Renzi was speaking as he presented his 2017 budget plans to the media after winning backing for them last week from the Chamber of Deputies. The budget includes plans to loosen the fiscal strings to finance tax cuts, increased health and education spending and measures to help smaller companies and the country's earthquake-hit areas.

As such, it has put Renzi on a new collision course with the European Commission - but that long-running dispute may have to be managed by someone else if Sunday's constitutional reform referendum vote goes against him and he opts to step aside, as he has repeatedly suggested he will.

"I am not someone to cling on to my armchair," he said on Monday in a question-and-answer session on one of his social media pages.

Last week Renzi appeared to categorically rule out running a government of technocrats in the event of a No triumph in the referendum, on proposals to reduce the powers and size of the second parliamentary chamber, the Senate.

Such an administration is seen as more likely than fresh elections because a No vote will mean a recent reform of the electoral system, which is linked to the streamlining of parliament, will have to be amended before a nationwide vote can take place.

With opinion polls placing the No camp ahead - albeit with many voters still undecided - fears have mounted that Renzi's departure could trigger a financial crisis that would place Italy's heavily-indebted banks in peril.

Pier Carlo Padoan, the finance minister, attempted to play down those fears on Monday. "Obviously markets do not like uncertainty but Italy's fundamentals are strong," he said.

Markets were spooked Monday after influential British daily the Financial Times reported that eight Italian banks could go under in the event of a No vote triggering a financial crisis.

Padoan insisted the report contained nothing new. "Perhaps it was because it is Monday and there was not much to report," he added.

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