Europe

Talks aim to rescue Italy reforms ahead of EU summit

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi during a meeting in Brussels (23 Oct)
Image caption Silvio Berlusconi is under conflicting pressures from Brussels and his own political allies

Urgent talks in Italy have reportedly reached agreement to break a stalemate over economic reforms demanded by the EU.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was at odds with his main coalition partner, the Northern League, over the measures, including a pension age increase.

Details of the reported deal have not yet been released.

Rome's EU partners are demanding action to tackle Italy's huge public debt before a eurozone summit on Wednesday.

Late on Tuesday, the Northern League leader Umberto Bossi said: "In the end we have found a way. Now we will see what the EU says."

Eurozone leaders are to meet in Brussels to devise a strategy to confront the area's worsening debt crisis.

They are expected to agree a plan to reduce Greece's debt burden, strengthen European banks to withstand bond losses and scale up the eurozone rescue fund.

At a meeting over the weekend, Mr Berlusconi was publicly reproached by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel who said that it was vital for Italy's public debt "to be reduced in a credible manner in the coming years".

Italy, the third largest economy in the eurozone, needs to issue some 600bn euros (£520bn; $835bn) in bonds over the next three years to refinance maturing debt.

Raising the retirement age is one of the key economic reforms demanded by the country's EU partners as a condition for supporting Italy's bonds.

Earlier Mr Bossi dismissed the idea, saying: "I'm not touching our pensions, which are fine, to bring up the age to 67 just to please the Germans."

He added: "The government is at risk."

As the coalition parties held meetings, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said in a statement that the country must do everything to reduce the risk to government bonds by making its determination to cut public debt more credible.

For the first time, Silvio Berlusconi has also raised the possibility that he might step down from the political stage after dominating Italian politics for 17 years.

"I hope the conditions arise where I can leave the responsibility of the presidency to others, perhaps remaining within the party as its founding father," Mr Berlusconi is reported as saying, according to La Repubblica newspaper.

"Whatever happens I will do what my party and the coalition ask of me."