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Italy's populist Five Stars has new plans for euro

Italy's Five Star Movement has been distancing itself from the idea of a referendum on the euro ahead of March elections

Italy's Five Star Movement, which promised supporters a referendum on the euro, has had a change of heart, insisting it can win concessions from Europe to ease eurozone fiscal rules instead.

When in 2013 the anti-establishment party urged a vote on the single currency, "Germany had a monolithic government, the French-German axis was very strong, Britain was still fully involved," Five Star (M5S) leader Luigi Di Maio said Wednesday.

"It was very difficult to negotiate. Today, everything has changed," he told TGCOM24 television.

"Germany has been struggling for 90 days to put a government together, Spain has a minority government, France's traditional parties are weaker than ever.

"It's time to change the rules on the euro, not leave the euro," he added.

The movement has been steadily distancing itself from the idea of a referendum as it gears up for its first run at national leadership at the March 4 general elections.

Founded in 2009 and the leading single party in opinion polls, M5S supports a hotchpotch of policies from across the political spectrum.

Popular with younger voters in particular, it is accused by critics of being too immature to take over at the helm of the eurozone's third largest economy.

Di Maio, 31, said Tuesday a vote on the euro "would be an 'extrema ratio'," a Latin term for the last possible solution.

The euro has become a hot topic in the campaign. Former three-time conservative prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said Tuesday that Italy could not afford to leave the single currency -- but his centre-right coalition partner contradicted him immediately.

"(Northern League head Matteo) Salvini has changed his mind on leaving the euro, he has understood that it would be untenable for our economy," Berlusconi told Radio Capital.

But Claudio Borghi, the anti-immigrant party's head economist, said that "the moment the League gets into government it will make all the necessary preparations for monetary sovereignty".