Italian Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan on Thursday welcomed the European Commission (EC) demand for fast action on reforms, saying his country was ready to give "strong signals" to relaunch the economy.
Padoan said in a radio interview that the EC had sent a "severe" but appropriate warning in line with the concerns of the Italian government and what he believed when he was the deputy secretary-general of the Organization of Co-operation and Economic Development (OECD) until last month.
The Italian economy minister also told Il Sole 24 Ore financial newspaper that the new government led by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi would invest on growth through "immediate and structural reforms."
The remarks came a day after the EC reproached Italy for its high debt, low competitiveness and inadequate structural adjustments saying that strong action was needed to correct "excessive macroeconomic imbalances" in the economy.
His first priority, Padoan said, would be a reduction in labor taxes, which weigh on companies' productivity and competitiveness, through considerable spending cuts and a more efficient use of European funds.
"I would say 5 billion euros (6.8 billion U.S. dollars) yearly (of spending cuts) is not an unreasonable figure," he said mentioning measures to pay government debt to companies, one-off moves such as the repatriation of capital and fighting fiscal evasion.
Padoan also responded to the EC concerns about Italy's increasing public debt as a percentage of GDP, expected to reach 133.7 percent this year. "We must bring the debt down not because Europe was asking us but for our own sake and especially for our children," he said.
"The European reprimand will be one more reason to reinforce our strategy," Padoan underlined saying that "growth" would be at the center of Italy's policies during its EU's rotating presidency for the second half of this year.
The economy minister assured that his country was committed to keeping the deficit-GDP ratio below the 3-percent European Union (EU) ceiling.
Commenting on the hypothesis of creating one or more "bad banks" to hold Italian banks' non-performing loans -- that were worth nearly 156 billion euros (214 billion U.S. dollars) last year -- Padoan said it could be a "useful tool."
Also in response to the EC warning that Italy's 2014 budget was insufficient to correct the imbalances, government sources quoted by ANSA news agency said later on Thursday that the government would not pass a corrective budget.
"We know well that it is necessary to introduce fiscal and labor measures as well as constitutional reforms to make the Italian public system more efficient, but the EC reprimand was excessive and partly wrong," Italy's Undersecretary for European Affairs Sandro Gozi told Rai state television.
"It is a given that Italy, since the outbreak of the Greek crisis, not only did not take home one euro from the EU, but gave a lot of euros, or around 50 billion (68 billion U.S. dollars), to help those countries in need. We expect more objective evaluations from the EU," he said.
"I would like to clarify that what the European Commission did was not a special report on Italy but an ordinary report also regarding 16 other governments," Gozi said, adding that the answer to Italian problems "lies in the measures that we consider fundamental to create jobs and boost competitiveness."