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Berlusconi backs EU rules on deficits ahead of election

Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is seen during the television talk show "L'aria che tira" in Rome, Italy, January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Monday that his Forza Italia (Go Italy) party would seek to ensure Italy respected the EU’s limit on budget deficits if it was elected to power.

The EU limits public sector deficits to 3 percent of GDP. Italy’s budget deficit came in at 2.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2016 and was below that level last year, according to Italy’s central bank.

“The 3 percent deficit rule can be a debatable one, but we intend on respecting it,” Berlusconi told reporters after a meeting at the headquarters of the center-right European People’s Party in Brussels.

Berlusconi added that he believed that his taxation plans would lift economic growth in Italy and also reduce the country’s high level of sovereign debt.

“Today at 134 percent (of GDP), we want absolutely to reduce this percentage and want to bring it at least to 125 percent,” he said.

Opinion polls show the center-right grouping involving Berlusconi is in the lead ahead of an election on March 4.

Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek, writing by Philip Blenkinsop