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Italy’s PM Letta: ‘American leadership is needed’ for Europe’s economic growth

October 16, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
As Congress narrows in on an end to the shutdown, the rest of the world is watching their actions closely. Judy Woodruff talks to Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta about the importance of a U.S. budget deal on international market stability, the ongoing Euro crisis recovery and Italy's next move on immigration reform.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now that a deal appears to be at hand, the doomsday scenario that had alarmed the global community seems to have been averted, at least for a while.

Over the weekend, International Monetary Fund Chief Christine Lagarde had said that a failure to come to an agreement over the U.S. debt ceiling “would mean massive disruption the world over, and we would be at risk of tipping yet again into recession.”

Tonight, we get reaction to the proposed deal and the fight that led up to it from the leader of Europe’s fourth largest economy, the prime minister of Italy, Enrico Letta.

I spoke to him a short time ago.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta, welcome to the NewsHour.

PRIME MINISTER ENRICO LETTA, Italy: Thank you.

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JUDY WOODRUFF: So we’re watching what’s happening on Capitol Hill today. It looks as if there’s a deal. If that holds, what does that mean for the global economy and for Italy’s economy?

ENRICO LETTA: I think we need — we need absolutely an agreement.

It would be very important for stability, stability in the markets, first of all. We need stability in the markets to have reforms, of course, at the global level. We decided to have important reforms in the last G20 meeting against fiscal evasion, fiscal avoidance, on structural reforms.

And we need, of course, to have reforms in each country. Italy’s one of them. But, to have reforms, we need stability in the markets. So the agreement this evening — we hope the agreement this night or this evening will be very important for our future.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For our — and you’re referring to — not just to Italy, but to the entire world?

ENRICO LETTA: Yes, to the entire world, but I would say to Europe, first of all, because I will stress the point that the American leadership last year was very important to help Europe to start to exit from the euro crisis.

And Obama was very important in the G8 to help the Europeans to go to step by step out of the crisis. Now, of course, the American leadership is needed to continue on the path for growth, because we are out of the austerity, of the years of crisis, of euro crisis and so on, and we have to be in the path of growth. This is why we need America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Of course, even if this deal is passed, it’s only until February, when the politicians have to come together and have another agreement to raise the debt ceiling. How much confidence do you have that leaders in this country right now have the ability to do that?

ENRICO LETTA: I can’t say anything about the internal political debate, of course.

But I’m here in Washington also to say the rest of the world is looking at your decisions as congressmen and senators and so on. And your decisions are important for the rest of the world. So the world’s growth needs stability, and we need such an agreement, and I hope also an agreement in — another agreement in February, of course.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you think you understand what’s happening here right now?

ENRICO LETTA: It’s not easy, but I can understand because I have my problems at home, and I know how big is the fight, debate among factions, among electoral factions, political parties, individuals. It’s not easy to have agreement in politics today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of Italy, you have just emerged from a confidence vote in your own country. Your former Prime Minister Berlusconi was challenging you, some political turmoil.

How confident are you that your own country is now on a path to economic and political stability?

ENRICO LETTA: I’m confident because of this confidence vote, very important, of course, but also because, yesterday, we improved the budget for 2014 in the Council of Ministers. And this budget will be the first budget after years in Italy with the debt — the general debt decreasing, the deficit decreasing, the public spending decreasing, and tax level decreasing.

I hope that we will have growth next year, but I would say — for the first year, I would say we are out of the emergency. And that is, for my country, for Italy, very important news. Now we have to apply reforms, of course. But we are ready to have budget under control, no more debts.

The best news, I think, for the markets and for the Italians, for the young Italians, is that our debt is decreasing next year, and so no more debts, and I hope for reforms to having growth. So I am confident.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the entire European continent, as you know, Mr. Prime Minister, is experiencing a wave of populism right now, some of it angry, reacting to the austerity that’s been instituted, to the recession that has taken so long to begin to lift.

And some of it has turned violent. How serious a problem is this, and what are you doing in your own country to address it?

ENRICO LETTA: The problem, I think, is very serious, because, next year, we will have the election of the European Parliament. The big risk is that this election will bring the most anti-European European Parliament ever, because, in many countries, like mine, of course, but also in France with Marine Le Pen or in other countries, we have the rise of populist parties, anti-Europe and anti-euro.

That will be a big problem, of course, because we had these five years of crisis, austerity, lack of growth, and lack of jobs. Jobs is the true problem of Europe, and, first of all, jobs for youth. We risk to have a sort of lost generation, the generation of youth today. We have to help them and we have to give them opportunities.

This is why hope is so important today, and this is why structural reforms are so important. So, my mission, our mission is to defeat populism, but challenging populism with concrete answers, concrete answers on jobs, on growth. And that is, I think, the main — the main issues today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, in connection with that, you have the issue of immigration and this tragic incident of a few weeks ago, the boat of migrants coming from the continent of Africa. They were headed to the island of Lampedusa. There was a terrible accident. Hundreds were killed.

Who — are you — do you have a sense that you’re able to get to the bottom of why this kind of thing has happened and to be sure that it doesn’t happen again?

ENRICO LETTA: It was a tragedy, of course. It is a tragedy.

And I would say that this issue today is one of the main issues of our Mediterranean Sea, because, of course, we have something completely new. Migrations in the past were linked to economic reasons. Today, migrations are, first of all, linked to failed states, refugees, terrible wars.

The former, I would say, Arab springs are now not only springs, but something of — worst than spring. This is why, today, we have to change our approach. We have to be very selective, of course, but we have to help those who are really refugees, first of all. We have now a problem in Libya. Libya is a state without strong institutions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

ENRICO LETTA: The tragedy with the boat, the boat was from — arriving from Misrata, from Libya.

So, Italy asked for a European initiative. And we will discuss in Brussels Thursday in the next week which initiative. But we — the Italians, we are the main Mediterranean country, so we have our own responsibility, and we are taking our own responsibility.

So, we started a military humanitarian mission yesterday, just yesterday. The name is Mare Nostrum, this mission, with many ships, many planes to try to control, of course, the sea in the area around Lampedusa, around Malta, towards Libya, and to rescue people, of course.

We don’t want to see other terrible images like we — I was in Lampedusa some days ago with President Barroso, the president of the European Commission. We were there with 300 coffins. It was really terrible with kids, with women. It was — we can’t tolerate something like that. This is why our mission, military humanitarian mission — and I hope the mission will avoid other tragedies like that.

But, also, I would like to have a European initiative. We need a European initiative.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Prime Minister Enrico Letta, we thank you very much for coming to talk with us at the NewsHour.

ENRICO LETTA: Thank you.