Letta more optimistic after European tour

Barroso confident Italy will lower deficit

Letta more optimistic after European tour

Rome, May 2 - Italy's new Premier Enrico Letta said Thursday he was more optimistic about the future after meeting European leaders this week. ''I return to Rome more optimistic than when I left,'' Letta said after his first talks with key European leaders. ''There is an awareness that we have in common - European citizens must see Europe as a means for positive, not negative solutions''. Mr Letta said he had ''a number of ideas'' to put to a summit of European leaders in June ''to give concrete signs, especially to fight youth unemployment''. On Tuesday the new Italian premier met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin and on Wednesday he was French president Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace in Paris. On Thursday he met European Commission president Jose' Manuel Barroso, who said he was confident that Italy would reduce its deficit. ''We need more urgent efforts for growth,'' Barroso said at a media conference in Brussels after his first talks with Letta. Barroso also emphasised the need to put a plan in place in June to fight youth unemployment. Italy's unemployment reached a 20-year high of 11.5 percent in March. But almost one in four young people between the age of 15 and 24 are unemployed. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development on Thursday delivered a fresh blow to the new government's economic outlook saying it expected Italy's GDP to fall by 1.5 percent this year before rising only 0.5 percent in 2014. The OECD said poor competitiveness, a fall in bank lending and the impact of spending cuts and tax increases on businesses and households was undermining growth. Letta said he had told Barroso he ''intended to maintain the commitments made by the previous government to the commission'' regarding its deficit and debt-reduction commitments. He said the government would outline its plans to Brussels in the coming weeks regarding its commitments.

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