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Italy’s Tremonti tackles debt crisis with eurozone’s Juncker

Published on 03/08/2011

Italy's finance minister holds crisis talks here Wednesday with eurozone chief Jean-Claude Juncker, as Europe's biggest debtor after Greece faced meltdown on money markets.

Giulio Tremonti, already battling links to a corruption probe in Italy after admitting making cash payments for rent to one of the probe’s targets, meets Luxembourg Prime Minister Juncker in a downtown hotel at 9:50 am (0750 GMT).

The talks follow a dramatic day on bond markets, when investors sold down Italian and Spanish government debt, firing concerns amid slowing economic growth in the third- and fourth-biggest eurozone economies that could ultimately threaten the euro.

Bondholders were also expressing worries about a July 21 deal struck by eurozone leaders for a 159-billion-euro ($226 billion) second Greek rescue, one where investors would have to share the burden of bailing out Athens barely a year into a failed first rescue attempt.

Tremonti comes to Luxembourg, also the home of the European Union bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, after convening urgent talks on Tuesday with Italy’s central bank and stock market authorities to grapple with the growing emergency.

He was also to hold telephone talks Tuesday night with EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn — who interrupted holiday time in Finland to re-engage with the crisis, but who made no comment about the outcome of their talks.

After Tremonti’s meeting, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will address the Italian parliament amid calls on Rome to match Spain’s pledge and hold an early election just weeks after adopting wide-ranging budget austerity measures.

As tbe financial market contagion underscores demands for a dramatic centralisation of patchwork eurozone economic policy management, sources contacted by AFP at the Italian government, the European Commission and in Juncker’s entourage remained tight-lipped on Tuesday night about what Rome can do to stave off heightening tension.

Debt rescue planning for Italy, Spain and Cyprus was “certainly not on the table,” according to Chantal Hughes, standing in for Rehn’s regular spokesman.

However, “all scenarios have become a possibility, even the most dramatic ones,” said Rome economics professor Pierpaolo Benigno, comparing the world’s eighth-largest economy — and the eurozone’s biggest after Germany and France — to a “bull (that) has entered the china shop.”

The yield on Italian 10-year bonds rose to 6.165 percent on Tuesday, edging ever closer to the tipping-point, seven-percent borrowing costs faced by Greece, Ireland and Portugal before they called in financial aid from euro partners and the International Monetary Fund over the last 15 months.

The risk premium Italy must pay new creditors, compared to benchmark interest rates charged of safe-haven Germany, shot to a record 384 basis points during trading — and credit default swaps, or insurance against a government defaulting on its bonds, also rose to a record level.

Italy last month adopted a plan to bring its public deficit next year back within the EU limit of 3 percent of GDP and achieve a balanced budget in 2014.