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Italy seeks 6 billion euros from REPowerEU plan, more time to spend COVID funds -sources

ECB holds ad hoc meeting to discuss market rout

By Giuseppe Fonte

ROME (Reuters) - Italy is in talks with European Union authorities to secure at least 6 billion euros ($6.33 billion) under the so-called REPowerEU plan to completely wean itself off Russian gas and boost efforts to make its economy more green, sources said.

The Italian government also seeks more time to spend the roughly 200 billion euros in grants and cheap loans it is due by 2026 from the EU's post-COVID Recovery Fund, two officials close to the matter told Reuters on Monday.

Aimed at ending the EU's dependence on Russian fossil fuels and tackling the climate crisis, REPowerEU is funded through some 225 billion euros of untapped loans made available under the EU recovery plan launched in 2021.

Additional resources will stem from cohesion funds and the sale of EU Emission Trading System allowances (ETS), which compel manufacturers, power companies and airlines to buy permits to cover each tonne of carbon dioxide they emit.

Italy believes it can get at least 2.7 billion euros from the ETS resources and 3 billion euros from the cohesion funds, one of the sources said.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's administration plans to complete talks with Brussels on Rome's proposed use of the EU funds by the end of April.

Part of the funds could be devoted to building a link to bring hydrogen that would be produced in north Africa to northern Europe.

Meloni's office said this month it also wanted to use these funds to turn the country into an energy hub for the bloc.

At the same time, Italy wants to replace some projects envisaged in its national recovery plan that Rome is unable to complete by 2026 with others that are compatible with that deadline.

The projects that would be removed from the plan would not be scrapped, but funded with separate cohesion funds which under European Union rules can be spent by 2029, the sources said.

Such a solution would potentially give the government up to three more years to complete its overall investment programme without formally going beyond the 2026 deadline currently envisaged for the post-pandemic programme.

Italy is behind schedule in actually using the recovery funds. Its initial timetable envisaged spending more than 40 billion euros' worth by 2022 but this estimate was revised downwards several times and in December was set below 20 billion euros.

($1 = 0.9479 euros)

(Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte; Editing by Susan Fenton)