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September 26, 2017

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Obama fires shot at EU austerity, backs Renzi

ROME--Outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama has fired a parting shot at EU leaders over their economic policies and offered strong backing to Italy's Matteo Renzi ahead of a crucial referendum.

Renzi, the Italian prime minister and the most prominent critic of the European Union's emphasis on fiscal rigor over efforts to foster jobs and growth, is due at the White House on Tuesday for the final state dinner of the Obama administration.

And in an interview with Italian daily La Repubblica, the U.S. president lavished praise on the "vision and ambitious reforms" of the center-left Renzi, who has staked his political future on winning a Dec. 4 referendum on constitutional reform.

Obama said Tuesday's dinner would be an opportunity to thank Renzi for "his strong partnership across a range of issues, including our shared commitment to broad and inclusive growth that creates jobs in both our countries and across Europe."

Obama said the growth-boosting Recovery Act passed early in his administration had helped to create more than 15 million new jobs, cut unemployment in half and trigger a rise in wages and a fall in poverty rates.

"Some countries took a different approach," he said. "As I've said before, I do believe that austerity measures have contributed to slower growth in Europe.

"In some countries, we've seen years of stagnation, which has fed into the economic frustrations and anxieties we see across the continent ... "

Renzi has also blamed austerity for the rise in populist political parties across Europe, and repeatedly clashed with EU officials over demands for greater leeway on budget rules to allow him to pursue a more expansionary economic policy.

"Matteo has the right approach, and it's beginning to show results," Obama said.

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