Italian PM presses on with economic summit

Italian PM presses on with economic summit

Italy is expected to receive around 172 billion euros from an EU fund to help revitalise its economy
Italy is expected to receive around 172 billion euros from an EU fund to help revitalise its economy

ROME: EU leaders are set to join Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Saturday for talks on jumpstarting the nation's economy, but opposition figures shunned the hastily organised — and roundly criticised — initiative.

Despite a bevy of A-list political speakers, Italians such as far-right leader Matteo Salvini planned to sit out Conte's conference, casting it as a media stunt designed to boost the premier's profile.

Although his approval ratings rose during the coronavirus emergency, Conte now faces political challenges as the country faces a deep recession.

He has convinced European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to join via videoconference, along with International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva, according to the Italian news agency AGI.

Other top European Union officials were also reportedly on board, while European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde was scheduled but had yet to confirm, AGI said.

As of Friday afternoon, Conte's office had not published a public agenda for the closed-door sessions that were to continue through Monday.

Conte publicly launched the idea last week, saying he wanted to unite "the country's strongest forces" and compile the "most effective ideas" for an economic rebound following two months of lockdown.

The EU's third largest economy is expected to contract by at least 8.3% in 2020, under the most optimistic estimate from Italy's national statistics agency.

To stimulate activity in EU countries most affected by the Covid-19 crisis, the European Commission has proposed a 750-billion-euro ($847 billion) recovery plan — 500 billion euros in grants and 250 billion euros in loans.

Italy is expected to receive around 172 billion euros of this sum.

Conte hoped the meeting would include the ruling majority, members of the opposition, trade unions and economic experts to draft guidelines for a recovery plan.

Conte has suggested a task force headed by former Vodafone chief executive Vittorio Colao to come up with recommendations on how to get Italy's economy back on track.

Proposals include digitising Italy's onerous public administration, modernising infrastructure and restructuring the national university system, among others.

Italy's opposition spurned Conte's invitation and even government officials including Economy Minister Roberto Gualteri criticised hasty plans and lack of cabinet input, news reports said.

Salvini seized on the initial confusion, writing on Facebook on Monday that "the only certainty" about the meeting was that there was a rift in the government.

"Meanwhile, thousands of Italian families have still not received a euro, the invasion of illegal immigrants has resumed unabated, appeals by the head of state to speak with the opposition are ignored," wrote Salvini, a former deputy prime minister.

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