Rome

Letta satisfied as G8 focuses on growth, jobs

Youth unemployment remains priority for Italy

Letta satisfied as G8 focuses on growth, jobs

(By Kate Carlisle) Rome, June 18 - Italian Premier Enrico Letta said he was satisfied at the end of a two-day G8 summit in Northern Ireland at which leaders agreed on the need to promote economic growth and fight unemployment - top priorities for his government. The summit also saw agreements on fighting tax evasion and money laundering, while how to solve the conflict in Syria continued to divide Russia and the West. Letta said that "a great umbrella of agreements, understandings and strategies that push forward the policies of my government" had emerged at the summit. Leaders said in an end-of-summit statement that "an urgent priority is to promote growth and jobs, especially for young people and the long-term unemployed. Letta was encouraged by United States President Barack Obama's dedication to press the issue of youth unemployment. "I noticed American President Obama is paying great attention to youth unemployment," Letta, who met Obama for a tete-a-tete Monday, told a press conference at the end of the two-day G8 summit. "The fact that President Obama agrees on this is very important for me". Letta has made fixing youth unemployment a keystone of his premiership, pushing the issue at several EU meetings since he assumed the head of the government in April. A major EU summit in Brussels later this month will focus on this issue after Letta insisted it be at the top of the agenda. On Monday, Italian MP Dario Franceschini, a Democratic Party (PD) member like Letta, said combatting youth unemployment was more of a priority than IMU and VAT tax issues, with around four out of 10 Italians aged 15-to-24 out of work. Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party (PdL) has threatened to pull its support and sink Letta's broad coalition government if it fails to scrap the unpopular IMU property tax and refund the revenues raised from it in 2012 to respect the key pledge the ex-premier made in the election campaign. The centre-right PdL also wants to avert a rise in the top band of value added tax (VAT), from 21% to 22%, that is scheduled for July after being put in place by former premier Mario Monti's technocrat administration. World leaders attending the G8 summit announced several agreements relating to taxes like fighting evasion and money laundering. Governments said that they signed an agreement to give each other automatic access to information on their residents' tax affairs and requiring shell companies to identify their real owners. The Italian government said on Monday that it remained committed to waging war on rampant tax evasion in Italy, saying it was necessary for "social justice". A summit between Italian and Russian leaders will take place in the northern city of Trieste this autumn, Letta said. Sources said that Letta met with Russian President Vladimir Putin late Monday, when the leaders discussed an upcoming G20 meeting in September in St Petersburg and a bilateral conference on Italian-Russian relations. Putin also reportedly invited Letta to visit Moscow. How to solve the conflict in Syria continued to divide Russia and the West during the summit. The most the G8 leaders could all agree to was "to strongly support the proposal for a conference on reaching a political solution" to the conflict "as soon as possible". Russia, which has arms contracts and other trade ties with the Syrian government, supports Assad. The Italian premier said that he will be in London July 16-17 to meet British Prime Minister David Cameron with the UK's membership of the European Union among the issues to be tackled. Cameron has said he wants Britain to stay in the EU, but only if it is reformed, and plans to hold a referendum on membership if he is re-elected at the next general election. "It's a good thing that Great Britain stays on board," Letta said. "The main issue (at the London meeting) will be how to tell the English that it's important for us that Great Britain remains in the EU. "The EU would not be better without Britain, on the contrary, it would be worse". "I return to Italy charged with positive energy, both from the G8 meetings and the bilateral meetings and the agreements that came out of them," Letta concluded.

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