Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, who met with President Obama on Thursday, spoke with The Post’s Lally Weymouth beforehand about Italy’s efforts to emerge from recession and to spark growth. Excerpts:
Q. What will you discuss during your meeting with President Obama?
A. We have to reaffirm the strategic interest of our friendship — Italy and the U.S. We have to work together on many issues. We share the fact that after five years of crisis and austerity in Europe and the world, we need to have years of growth. Second, the main concern is instability.
Are you worried about refugees coming into Italy if Syria continues to be so unstable?
We are, because the situation today is out of control in Libya, Egypt and Syria. We had a terrible tragedy [of refugees drowning] around Lampedusa [an island south of Sicily] some days ago. We [have] decided . . . Italian ships and aircraft will patrol the sea between Libya, Lampedusa and Malta.
Is that to let immigrants in or keep them out?
To rescue them if their ships capsize. We had a rescue operation two days ago saving 150 people, children and women. And of course we have to block the Libyan human traffickers — those who are creating these ships.
You want to stop the organizers?
The main problem is that Libya today is a weak country, so it is very difficult to deal with them but absolutely necessary to help. First, we must rescue people in the sea because we can’t [allow] the Mediterranean to become a sort of death sea. Secondly, we also have to deal with the failure of some states, like Syria. We want to deal with refugees. In our constitution there is the right to accept refugees. The main problem is that we had a big change in migration trends. Ten years ago, the migration trends were completely focused on economic reasons. Today, more than half are refugees from failed states.
You have Syrian refugees?
Yes, in Lampedusa, for instance.
Many analysts call Italy, Spain and France the troubled countries of the euro zone. Can Italy do enough to remain in the euro zone?
We need to have a banking union in the European Council because if we had had the banking-union mechanism [whereby failing banks can be aided or shut down], we would have avoided the banking crises. Second, we need to have a stable situation in the markets. Since one year ago when [European Central Bank President] Mario Draghi said the ECB would do whatever it took [to buy government debt], that was the big change and stability came for Italy, Spain and France. . . .
[This week] we approved in the [Italian] Council of Ministers the budget for 2014. And for the first time in five years, the general debt will be lower. The deficit will be 2.5 percent, so it will be lower than the 3 percent of this year.
How will you do that?
By cutting public spending.
You’re going to cut public spending? But haven’t the unions already threatened to strike?
Yes. They are not very happy, but I will convince them.
Isn’t Italy’s deficit to GDP at 3.3 percent right now?