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European economic crisis: Why Italy is seen as too big to bail out

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Since Standard & Poor downgraded its credit rating outlook last May, Italy's public debt has been under constant attack from international markets, fostering speculation about the country's possible default. Wealthier eurozone nations such as Germany and France, already strained by the effort to save other embattled nations such as Greece and Portugal, appear deeply concerned about Italy's economic woes.

“They are so worried because Italy is too big to be saved,” says Tonia Mastrobuoni, an economic journalist at La Stampa newspaper. “As opposed to Greece and Portugal, we have no alternative but saving ourselves.”

Ms. Mastrobuoni argues that Italy's difficulties have their roots in structural problems such as low productivity rather than financial turmoil. Italy's budget deficit, currently at 3.9 percent of GDP, is already one of the lowest in the eurozone – although it is still higher than the 3 percent allowed under EU regulations. “The problem is that Italy's economy hasn't been growing for more than a decade, and all of a sudden the international markets seemed to have realized it,” says the journalist.

Recently a prominent Italian entrepreneur, Emma Marcegaglia, described the early 2000s as “the lost decade” for the economy. Mastrobuoni, who has coauthored a book on the subject, blames the lack of growth on the rigidity of the labor market, which she describes as having a double standard.

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