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Italians want to cut debt without sacrifice

By Nicole Winfield

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 23 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Two women walk past the Milan gothic cathedral, Italy Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011. More than 90 percent of Italians consider cutting the country's huge public debt a top priority over the coming years, but few are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to do so, according to a new AP-GfK poll released Tuesday. The survey was conducted Nov. 16-20, during the first days of economist Mario Monti's new government, brought to power after international financial markets pummeled Italy for failing to rein in its euro 1.9 trillion in debt, a euro zone high, coming in at 120 percent of GDP. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Associated Press

ROME — Few Italians are willing to make personal sacrifices — like retiring at age 67 instead of 65, or even earlier — though they believe cutting the country's public debt is a top priority, according to an AP-GfK poll released Tuesday.

And most Italians think the country should stay in the 17-nation eurozone even though the European Union is demanding such tough economic reforms.

A full 93 percent of Italians said reducing the public debt was either an "extremely" or "very important" goal for the government to tackle. Only 2 percent said it was "not too important" or "not at all important."

Yet, only about a quarter of Italians favor reforming labor laws to make it easier to fire workers, or raising the retirement age — considered critical to curb Italy's public spending and boost economic growth.

Italy has been engulfed in financial turmoil for weeks as markets woke up to the enormous size of its debt — $2.6 trillion, a eurozone high at 120 percent of gross domestic product. The market turmoil and a loss of confidence in Italy's ability to repay its debt forced Premier Silvio Berlusconi to resign Nov. 12, ending his 17-year domination of Italian politics.

The AP-GfK poll was conducted last week during the first days of economist Mario Monti's new government, made up of bankers, academics and corporate executives instead of politicians. Monti is under enormous pressure to quickly rein in the debt and get the economy growing again.

Italy's economy is hampered by high labor costs, low productivity, fat government payrolls, excessive taxes, choking bureaucracy and low numbers of college graduates. Yet as the third-largest economy in the eurozone, Italy is too big for Europe to bail out like it did Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

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