Italy Northern League leader says agreement reached

Tue Oct 25, 2011 2:53pm EDT
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By Giuseppe Fonte

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's ruling coalition reached agreement on Tuesday on reforms ahead of a European Union summit on Wednesday but a key coalition leader said he was still pessimistic about the future of the government.

Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League, whose support is vital to the survival of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government, said it was up to the EU to decide if the reforms are enough.

"In the end we have found a way. Now we will see what the EU says," Bossi told reporters.

But asked if he was still gloomy about the chances of the government surviving disputes over economic reforms demanded by euro zone leaders, Bossi replied: "I remain pessimistic."

EU leaders, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, have demanded that Berlusconi present firm plans to promote growth and reduce Italy's massive debt in time for a summit meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.

An emergency cabinet meeting late on Monday ended without agreement after Berlusconi's coalition allies in the Northern League refused to budge on their opposition to raising the pension age to 67 years from 65 at present.

Bossi, who earlier had said the disagreement could bring down the government and force early elections, gave no details on the reforms that would be presented to Brussels but said the League still opposed raising some retirement ages.

Berlusconi, mired in scandal and facing sagging approval ratings, has survived a series of confidence votes with the help of the League but analysts widely believe he cannot last much longer, with many expecting elections next spring.   Continued...