EU willing to consider changes to Italy reform plan, but Rome must be quick

EU Finance Ministers meet in Stockholm

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The EU Commission said on Wednesday it was prepared to consider changes to a plan of reforms agreed with Italy, but any new proposals must be made as soon as possible for Rome to secure promised pandemic recovery funds.

Rome is struggling to meet a package of policy pledges, including reforms to the judicial system and cuts to red tape, which it made to the Commission in return for 200 billion euros ($220 billion) from the EU's post-COVID Recovery Fund.

It now says it cannot complete the planned reforms by a 2026 deadline, and has been in talks with Brussels to seek more flexibility.

"If changes in this plan are needed, we need to discuss, and we are ready to discuss these changes in a very constructive and flexible way. But we need to do this as soon as possible," EU Economic Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said on Wednesday.

"This is why we encourage to strengthen administrative capacity at central and local level to address these coming challenges," he added.

Italy is the biggest beneficiary of the EU recovery fund, but meeting the goals agreed with Brussels is one of the main challenges for Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's rightist government that took office last October.

"The implementation of Italy's recovery and resilience plan is underway, however with increasing risk of delays," the Commission wrote in its recommendation for Italy.

($1 = 0.9084 euros)

(Reporting by Sara Rossi and Alessia Pé in Milan, editing by Cristina Carlevaro and Peter Graff)