Italy has achieved the targets required to receive the funds provided by the European Union (EU) post-COVID recovery program, and the government is still ready to support the national economy in case of a new slowdown, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Wednesday.
Speaking at a traditional year-end press conference, he specified that "all of the 51 targets" needed for the country to qualify for the next installment of European funds has been met.
Italy is meant to receive 191.5 billion euros (216.7 billion US dollars) in low-interest loans and grants over the next six years. This is its portion of an 806-billion-euro European Recovery Fund provided through the Next Generation EU scheme, which was approved in 2020 to help member states recover from the pandemic.
In return, Brussels requires all countries to implement a package of reforms to address specific economic or systemic weaknesses and to push digitalization.
Italy has received a first tranche of such funds -- about 24.9 billion euros -- in August, and would now be able to proceed towards a second tranche.
"Currently, the (European) Commission is discussing the signing of what is called 'the operative agreement', which is the step that follows the achievements of the 51 targets required," Draghi explained.
"The major challenge for us is to increase our long-term growth rate and solve the structural weaknesses of our economy, beginning with geographical, gender, and generational inequalities," he specified.
The prime minister recalled the good performance the Italian economy has overall shown this year, which would end with an expected 6 percent annual growth after a 9 percent decline in 2020.
"This recovery has allowed us to improve public accounts as well ... and the government remains ready to support the economy in case of slowdown," Draghi stressed.
On the pandemic situation, he reiterated the need to trust in the ongoing vaccination campaign. Participation so far has been high. As of Wednesday, some 85.4 percent of people aged over 12 in Italy have been fully vaccinated, according to official data.
Vaccination for children aged 5 to 11 started in Mid-December, and over 108,000 kids have received a first dose so far.
On Thursday, Draghi would preside over a special COVID-19 cabinet meeting, which is expected to decide whether to add new restrictions across the country over the period between Christmas and the New Year. (1 euro = 1.13 US dollars)