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Italy situation is bigger elephant in room than French and German elections: UBS chairman

Italy and Greece are the key problems facing the euro zone despite much focus being on the continent's busy election schedule this year, according to Axel Weber, the chairman of Swiss bank UBS.

The sustainability of public finances has not yet been achieved in Greece, warned Weber, speaking to CNBC from the IMF's (International Monetary Fund) annual Spring meeting in Washington, D.C. on Saturday.

"That's a problem that is not resolved – it's off everyone's radar screen," he pointed out.

Similarly, Italy's weak economic and financial situation is set to be a bigger elephant in the room than the outcomes of this year's Dutch, French and German elections, all of which have seen populist candidates gain significant momentum and attention.

"The real tail risk is the Italian situation because … Italy has not grown for almost two decades now. So whilst in the U.S. the crisis is a remote memory, in Europe it is still the acute presence," argued the long-tenured banker, explaining that this dynamic is set to determine the populist agenda in Europe in a way that the U.S. has managed to avoid.

Weber highlighted the continually diverging fortunes of European countries, noting that while German output is exceeding even pre-crisis peaks, other countries such as Italy and Spain are still wracked by economic turbulence.

The lack of uniformity presents an ongoing challenge to policymakers at the European Central Bank (ECB), with Weber saying that the institution will be compelled to continue providing support as there is no-one to take over from it in doing so. This contrasts with the situation in the U.S. where the President Donald Trump administration has implied that it will look to provide fiscal support as the Federal Reserve has moved to lessen its monetary policy support.

Germany aside, many European countries do not have the financial means to support their economies with fiscal adjustments.

"I don't see fiscal policy being a major solution in Europe," asserted Weber.

Italian NO voters stumping for support in a public square in Rome.
Justin Solomon | CNBC
Italian NO voters stumping for support in a public square in Rome.

Turning to the Union's growth outlook, the UBS chairman noted that anticipated growth of 1 to 1.5 percent will be insufficient to solve Europe's fundamental issues, such as an ageing workforce.

"Even if growth rebounds, it's not a strong upswing. There's some upside to it but there's no real swing in it," he said.

"Europe really needs to turn the corner and put serious structural measures on the table and implement them. Only that will allow the ECB to retreat from the current strong support it provides to the European economy at large," Weber added.

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