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Keep your debt under control, EU's Moscovici tells Italy

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By Tom Körkemeier

BERLIN (Reuters) – Italy must work to keep its national debt under control, EU Economics Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said, by cutting wasteful spending and prioritising investment and infrastructure spending to help stimulate growth and productivity.

He said separately in an interview with Reuters that the European executive was “totally dedicated” to achieving a good Brexit deal.

Italy’s populist ruling coalition called on Economy Minister Giovanni Tria on Wednesday to allow greater deficit spending in next year’s budget in order to make good on its campaign promises, reviving financial market concerns about the country’s debt situation. [nL8N1W52SO]

“I urge all the government in Italy to be clear and to stay where it has to stay – at the core of the euro zone as a strong, credible country willing to secure that its debt is under control,” Moscovici said.

Italy, like all other euro zone countries, will have to submit its draft budget for next year by mid-October. The Commission could reject it if it decides it is out of line with EU rules, a power that the EU executive has so far never used.

Turning to Brexit, Moscovici said the European Union could not compromise on the “four freedoms” of movement of goods, capital, people and services that it says are integral to its single market.

But he said the Commission was “totally dedicated to a deal”, adding: “We are still hopeful that we can make it.”

On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May received less than glowing praise for her Brexit plan, with top EU official Donald Tusk saying Britain must rework its proposals for Northern Ireland and trade.

Asked about the probability of a no-deal Brexit, Moscovici said “a good deal … is still doable, this is still feasible. And the Commission is working in that direction, and only in that direction.”

With just over six months to go until Britain leaves the EU, time is pressing and both sides are keen to secure some kind of deal before the end of the year and ease concerns over a disorderly Brexit, which could push the economy into a downturn.

Turning to elections to the European Parliament next year, Moscovici, a former French finance minister, did not rule out running as the lead candidate for the Social Democrats group.

“That’s something which is not impossible,” he said. “The time has not come for me to say precisely what I will do. Two or three weeks from now I will give my intentions.”

(Reporting by Tom Koerkemeier; Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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