Italy's populists aim to challenge European Union on debt and migrants

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But on Wednesday morning they issued a joint statement that harked back to the days of the 1980s and early 1990s when Italy's currency was the lira and before the EU's Maastricht treaty began to impose stringent fiscal standards on aspiring members of the euro.

After Berlusconi refused to have anything to do with the 5-Star Movement, who he regards as "more unsafe than communists", Salvini and Di Maio set out to negotiate an agreement to join forces in government. In particular, it had been decided "not to call into question the single currency", they said.

Italy's president has summoned rival populist leaders to see if they've nailed down a coalition deal, more than 10 weeks after elections yielded a political impasse.

The opposition Democrats, who controlled the outgoing government, warn that the League's vow to drastically lower taxes to a flat 15-percent rate, and the 5-Star's promise to give government subsidies to low-income Italians will spook financial markets and drastically drive up government borrowing costs.

League leader Matteo Salvini and 5-Star chief Luigi Di Maio have both agreed to drop their own ambitions to be prime minister and are looking for a candidate from outside their parties to head the government and enact their program.

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The draft accord is likely to cause concern in Brussels and at European Central Bank headquarters in Frankfurt. It might also dismay Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who has repeatedly stressed the importance of maintaining a strong, pro-European stance. The programme confirms they want to hand out more welfare - possibly using European Union funds - cut taxes and lower Italy's retirement age. 5-Star has moderated its position considerably in the past year, rowing back on a previous plan to hold a referendum on Italy's membership of the currency bloc.

It is still far from clear whether Five Star and the League are prepared to go all the way - and in fact the bluster on the euro may simply be the product of a political compromise in their negotiations that will never translate into policy.

The leader of Italy's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement took his campaign for a referendum on the euro to Brussels on Wednesday, holding out the prospect of cooperating with other anti-euro parties.

The 5-Star Movement is Parliament's largest party but far short of a majority. Italy's showdown with Europe would only be delayed. This was partly out of a belief that while they would push Brussels to relax fiscal rules - not unlike Italian governments of the past, and other European Union governments such as France and Spain - they would not seek to pull their country out of the single currency.

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