Mario Draghi said that signals from Italy in recent months that it may flout EU budget rules have driven up borrowing costs for the country’s households and small businesses, in a warning shot as the government prepares its 2019 budget.
Without directly criticising the Italian government, the European Central Bank president said that comments ministers had made on straying from previously agreed deficit targets “certainly did have an impact: households and companies are now paying higher rates than before as a result of the statement”.
Speaking before a European Parliament committee in Brussels, Mr Draghi said that data showed that, since April, banks “have increased the interest rates by around 20 basis points particularly in making loans to small and medium-sized companies” in Italy.
“It’s not only that bank interest rates have gone up but demands for guarantees have become more demanding and contractual clauses have become more demanding”, Mr Draghi said.
“This happened in Italy, it didn’t happen anywhere else in the eurozone. That’s all I have to say,” Mr Draghi said.
Italy is in the final stages of preparing its first budget since the country’s populist government took office earlier this year. Giovanni Tria, Italy’s finance minister is under pressure from both parties in the governing coalition to find fiscal room for more spending and tax cuts despite constraints imposed by euro area rules. The draft budget plans must be presented to the European Commission by mid-October.
“If you look at the other countries, companies are continuing to pay the same interest rates or lower interest rates than previously,” Mr Draghi said.
Mr Tria has indicated that he is targeting a deficit in 2019 of 1.6 per cent of Italy’s gross domestic product, but this has stoked concerns in both the far-right League and anti-establishment Five Star Movement that prized policies will have to be put on hold.
Italian lawmakers have already called on the ECB to hold fire on withdrawing its crisis-era stimulus measures, in a sign of Rome’s concern that the country’s borrowing costs will shoot up.
Giancarlo Giorgetti, the Italian cabinet undersecretary, indicated in August that he wanted the ECB to continue buying fresh bonds should markets launch a speculative attack on Italy.
Mr Draghi signalled on Monday that the bank had no intention of rethinking its plans to call time on the expansion of its €2.5tn bond-buying programme, dubbed quantitative easing, at the end of this year.
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