ROME (Reuters) - Italy will not change its 2019 budget, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said on Wednesday after the European Commission rejected the government's fiscal plan and gave it three weeks to present a new one.
In a radio interview with RTL 102.5, Salvini insisted the expansionary budget, which raises the deficit next year to 2.4 percent of gross domestic product from a targeted 1.8 percent this year, was the only way to lower the public debt.
"Italians come first ... Italy no longer wants to be a servant to silly rules," said Salvini, who leads the right-wing League party that governs with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.
The Commission called on Rome to present a new draft budget that cuts the structural deficit, which excludes one-offs and business cycle swings, by 0.6 percent of GDP, rather than increase it by 0.8 points as in the current plan.
The EU executive was exerting for the first time a power obtained in 2013 after a sovereign debt crisis, to send back a budget of a euro zone country it says violates the rulebook.
Salvini said in order to boost the economy and lower the debt as a proportion of GDP Italy had to "do the opposite" of previous governments whose fiscal plans had been more acceptable to Brussels.
Italy's public debt stood at 131.2 percent of GDP at the end of last year, the highest ratio in the eurozone after Greece's.
Despite his defiant tone on the budget, Salvini said Italy's membership of the single currency was not in question.
"I don't want to leave euro or leave the European Union," he said.
In a wide-ranging interview, Salvini also said he had evidence that France was taking immigrants across the border and depositing them in Italy, and that this could be part of an attempt to destabilize the Italian government.
(Reporting by Gavin Jones)