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Italy's Northern League pledges to put right 'error' of euro

ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s rightist Northern League brushed off on Wednesday suggestions it had dropped its opposition to the euro and renewed its pledge to rectify the “error” of the single currency.

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Rising hostility to the euro in Italy is a prominent issue in campaigning for a March national election, and the prospect that anti-establishment parties could try to pull the country out of the single currency has rattled financial markets.

A coalition including the League and former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy!) looks set to win the most votes in March, but no group is likely to achieve a clear parliamentary majority.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, a member of Forza Italia, said this week the League “seemed to have abandoned the idea of a hypothetical and unfeasible exit from the euro”. League leader Matteo Salvini hit back on Wednesday.

“Free interpretations of my thinking make me laugh,” he told la Repubblica newspaper. “I remain convinced ... that the euro under these conditions was an error. Which we will put right.”

Allied with France’s National Front in the European Parliament, the League blames the euro for rising poverty in the bloc, saying it only favors economic powerhouse Germany.

Once one of the most pro-EU nations in Europe, Italy has become more hostile towards Brussels in recent years. A survey released by the Bertelsmann Foundation last October showed 83 percent of Italians were not satisfied with the direction of the EU against an average of 66 percent across the 28-nation bloc.

The anti-system 5-Star Movement has also seized on this disaffection, pledging a referendum on euro membership if Brussels does not agree to change the bloc’s fiscal rules. [nL8N1OI4XS]

But in France, the National Front’s anti-euro stance contributed to a bruising defeat at the hands of pro-EU centrist Emanuel Macron last spring. Marine Le Pen’s party has since softened its position, leaving the Northern League more isolated within Europe in its push for a euro-exit. [nL8N1MM3VG]

“Before, we had a concrete hope of creating a group of nations that could have immediately demolished the euro ... Sadly we no longer have that, so we need to approach it unilaterally,” Claudio Borghi Aquilini, the League’s head of economic policy, told Reuters.

“Our plan is still to try to leave the euro as soon as possible, but ‘as soon as possible’ means being ready to do so,” he said, giving no indication of how long it would take.

One of the League’s flagship proposals is to introduce a parallel currency for domestic use, issuing small-denomination bonds to firms and individuals owed money by the state.

Borghi said such instruments could become a sovereign currency in an emergency.

Berlusconi, who cannot run personally in the election because of a tax fraud conviction, also proposes a dual currency, but does not back abandoning the euro. [nL8N1LP4E9]

Building consensus in a center-right coalition for a radical exit will be difficult, Borghi said, partly because Italy’s economy is now growing modestly. But any future intransigence from European authorities could help that cause, he added.

“If we start with the idea that we always have to say ‘yes’ to whatever they ask of us, because we must stay in the euro at all costs, it’s over, it’s worse than a military defeat,” he said.

Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Catherine Evans