Italy minister worried at euro exit campaign

ROME Tue Jun 19, 2012 12:38pm EDT

Italian Agriculture Minister Mario Catania looks on during a vote of confidence at the Senate in Rome November 17, 2011. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Italian Agriculture Minister Mario Catania looks on during a vote of confidence at the Senate in Rome November 17, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Tony Gentile

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ROME (Reuters) - A push for Italy to leave the euro zone by some candidates in next year's election is misguided and an exit would be a catastrophe, a cabinet minister said on Tuesday.

Italy is in a severe recession, deepened by austerity measures passed by Mario Monti's technocrat government to try to keep Italy in the euro zone. Support for one party opposed to the currency has mushroomed to more than 20 percent.

"To point one's finger at the euro as the cause of an entire series of problems is easy, but it's also wrong," farm minister Mario Catania told Reuters in an interview.

He said leaving the zone "would be an economic catastrophe".

Catania serves in the unelected government of Monti, who has said repeatedly that his mission is to save Italy and by extension the euro zone.

But support has been growing for the Five-Star Movement, led by comedian Beppe Grillo, who criticizes the austerity measures aimed at keeping state finances and borrowing costs under control so that Italy can stay in the euro zone.

Grillo's movement, which also stands against corruption and cronyism, has emerged from obscurity in three years to become Italy's second biggest political force and a real contender in general elections expected in early 2013.

Even former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose People of Freedom party supports Monti in parliament, said this month that Italy should say "ciao, ciao" to the euro if the European Central Bank does not "start printing money."

Berlusconi has been seeking to revive his political prospects since stepping down in November amid charges that he paid for sex with an underage prostitute.

After negative media reaction, Berlusconi said his comment on the euro was meant as a joke.

But several papers said the billionaire TV magnate would have been ready to repeat his rhetoric if Greece's election at the weekend had brought in a party whose policies could have made a Greek exit from the euro more likely.

"To use the exit from the euro as a solution for the country's ills is a profound error, and a very serious responsibility that some politicians take upon themselves," Catania said.

"The exit from the euro would mean a strong devaluation and this would hit fixed incomes and savings. It would be particularly hard for the working classes and salaried workers". (Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

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