ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told parliament on Monday that Britain’s vote to leave the European Union could be a “great opportunity” for the rest of the bloc to make long-needed changes.
Speaking before flying to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, Renzi said the EU must now focus “a bit more on social issues and a bit less on bureaucratic ones.”
The referendum outcome strengthened the arguments for reform that Italy had often put forward to its partners, and these now had a greater chance of success, Renzi said.
Several top Italian officials have made clear they see the outcome of the British referendum offering opportunities for Italy, especially by allowing it to spend more without falling foul of EU budget deficit limits.
Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan warned on Saturday the referendum would probably weaken Italy’s already listless economic growth and hit its public finances. Its public debt, at around 133 percent of gross domestic product, is the highest in the euro zone after Greece’s.
Rome is also hoping to win EU backing as it tries to put together proposals to shore up its ailing banks, whose shares have been hit by heavy sell-offs since Thursday’s referendum.
“More growth and more investment, less austerity and less bureaucracy, this is the line we have proposed for two years, at the beginning in isolation,” Renzi told the Chamber of Deputies.
“Allow me to say that Brexit can be a great opportunity for Europe.”
The 41-year-old prime minister said it was important that not much time should be spent on deciding the technicalities of Britain’s exit from the EU.
“The referendum result must be respected, otherwise the credibility of Europe will be definitively swept away,” he said.
After months had been spent negotiating better terms for Britain to try to keep it in the EU, it would now be “offensive” if there were further drawn-out negotiations over the procedures for its exit, Renzi said.
Reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Mark Trevelyan