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Conte: EU recovery fund gives chance to 'change the face' of Italy

FILE PHOTO: Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte arrives for the fourth day of the European Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium, July 20, 2020. Stephanie Lecocq/Pool via REUTERS

ROME (Reuters) - Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Tuesday the EU stimulus plan would allow his government to transform Italy and help the bloc as a whole face the COVID-19 crisis with “strength and effectiveness”.

Conte said that 28%, or 209 billion euros, of the 750 billion euros agreed at the European summit would be for Italy, of which 81 billion euros will be in grants and 127 billion euros will be in loans.

The deal gives Italy “the opportunity to restart with strength” and the government the responsibility “to change the face of the country,” Conte said.

“Now we have to run and use these funds for investments and structural reforms. We have a real chance to make Italy greener, more digital, more innovative, more sustainable, inclusive. We have the chance to invest in schools, universities, research and infrastructures.”

Conte dismissed rumours that his government was on the verge of breakdown saying that the administration “is strong” and the EU deal “reinforces the Italian government’s action”.

Italy’s ruling parties are divided over whether to use the European Union bailout fund managed by the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which Italy has always declined to use in the past to avoid tough fiscal conditions.

“My position never changed: ESM is not our goal,” Conte said, adding that he hoped the deal on the Recovery Fund “could contribute to distract morbid attention surrounding the ESM”.

Talking about the long negotiations in Brussels, Conte said that he protected “the dignity of Italy and the autonomy of the EU institutions and rejected insidious attempts to alter the genuine vocation of the European project by cross vetoes”.

Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Andrew Heavens