* Opposition attacks "secret meeting" at holiday house
* ECB declines to comment on meeting
* Pressure grows on Renzi to act as recession returns
(Adds reaction from opposition, detail on public debt,
By Ilaria Polleschi
MILAN, Aug 13 Italian Prime Minister Matteo
Renzi confirmed on Wednesday that he met European Central Bank
President Mario Draghi this week, just days after Draghi urged
faster action to overhaul Italy's economy.
"Yes, I saw Draghi yesterday, I often see him," Renzi told
reporters in Milan who questioned him after a newspaper in the
Umbria region, where Draghi has a holiday house, reported the
meeting. But he offered no further comment.
With Italy now officially back in recession after a brief
remission at the end of last year, pressure for reform has
increased on Renzi, who has championed a greater emphasis on
economic growth in resolving the euro zone's debt crisis.
At the ECB's monthly news conference last Thursday, Draghi
said a lack of structural reforms was holding Italy back and
hampering a return to growth, prompting widespread media
speculation that European authorities could push to impose some
form of special administration on Italy.
While Renzi has promised Italy will meet its European Union
budget commitments, there have been growing questions about
whether he will be forced to find additional resources from an
already tightly squeezed budget to do so.
The local Corriere dell'Umbria daily reported on Wednesday
that Renzi met Draghi in Citta della Pieve, a small town in
Umbria, north of Rome.
It said Renzi arrived on Tuesday morning, his government
helicopter landing at a specially cleared municipal sports field
and remaining around two-and-a-half hours.
Renzi's spokesman declined to comment on the meeting. An ECB
spokesman also declined to comment.
The meeting, which was not on the prime minister's published
agenda and which was not confirmed by officials until Renzi
acknowledged it himself, drew sharp criticism from the
centre-right opposition which said Renzi owed a fuller
"Is it normal that the prime minister of a democratic
country takes a helicopter and goes to meet the president of the
ECB in secret?" Renato Brunetta, the lower house floor leader
for Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party said in a statement.
"And what did they talk about? And if it hadn't been uncovered,
would it have remained a secret?"
Draghi's pledge in 2012 that the ECB would do "whatever it
takes" to save the euro has been widely seen as the key to
ending the severest phase of the euro zone debt crisis.
But he is frequently criticised by opposition parties in
Italy who say he has been an advocate of austerity policies
which have deepened the economy's problems.
In an interview with the Financial Times on Monday, Renzi
dismissed speculation that he could be forced to accept the kind
of outside intervention seen in other crisis-hit countries like
Greece. He said he agreed with Draghi's call for reforms but
that they would be carried out on his own terms.
Having come to office in February pledging swift reforms to
an economy which has shrunk by some 9 percent since 2007, he has
faced growing criticism for not doing enough to cut Italy's
record unemployment and its towering public debt pile, which the
Bank of Italy said totalled 2.168 billion euros.
Much of the government's energy has been taken up in a
parliamentary battle over constitutional reforms to curtail the
powers of the Senate and regional governments, a measure
intended to speed up decision-making and give the government
more power to effect change.
Underlining the scale of the reform challenge, a row has
broken out in the ruling coalition over Article 18 of the labour
code, a measure intended to protect workers in larger companies
against unfair dismissal which critics see as a symbol of
Italy's labour market rigidities.
Centre-right coalition members want Article 18 scrapped, a
demand rejected by their centre-left partners and the unions,
while Renzi himself says the issue has to be dealt with as part
of a wider reform of labour market rules.
(1 US dollar = 0.7476 euro)
(Additional reporting by Paul Carrel; Writing by James
Mackenzie, editing by Isla Binnie/Ruth Pitchford)