Italy's premier insists budget deal not dictated by EU

Italy's premier denied Friday that the country's new budget was dictated by the European Commission, saying that he held firm on key points, including a basic income for job-seekers and rollbacks in an unpopular pension reform.

Premier Giuseppe Conte told reporters during the Italian government's traditional year-end press conference "it is not that Brussels made us rewrite the budget. That is erroneous. It is the budget we always wanted."

Italy spent three months locked in a battle with Brussels over Rome's budget, which the European Commission initially rejected. The new draft lowers the budget deficit to 2.04 percent of GDP from 2.4 percent of GDP, with new taxes including on web-based businesses and moves to create new revenue by selling government property.

Conte acknowledged that he erred in increasing taxes on nonprofit workers and said that would be rectified.

Italy is under pressure to pass the budget by Dec. 31, or risk sanctions for excessive debt. Italy's debt at 130 percent of GDP is the second-highest in the 19-nation eurozone, and Brussels is concerned that a high deficit will shake investors, pushing up borrowing costs and threatening to further increase debt.

As Conte spoke, the session of the lower house of parliament was suspended during a discussion of the budget due to disagreements. A final vote by the chamber was expected Saturday. The revised budget passed the Senate despite opposition complaints that it was being forced through without proper time to consider it.

Conte insisted that Italy's debt was under control.

"The fundamentals of the Italian economic system are very solid. Of course we have a debt that inspires a certain fear, but it is under control and it is not so scary," Conte said, adding it's offset by Italians' high savings rates and Italy's place as the second-largest manufacturing country in Europe.

Conte insisted the present populist government would endure for its five-year term and denied reports of disaccord between the two governing parties: the 5-Star Movement on the left and the League on the right.

The premier, a lawyer who belongs to neither party, said the government was proudly populist.

"This is not, as I think citizens can perceive, a government of lobbyists and of business interests," Conte said.