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Italy has moved to centre stage in the eurozone debt crisis. While Greece generated a lot of noise, it is now seen as a sideshow. Greece's debt problems are already widely known and the immediate consequences of a Greek default largely anticipated. Moreover, the size of the Greek economy is small enough that the direct damage, if Greece stopped paying its debts, should be quite manageable for the eurozone. Instead, the big fear is "contagion" - that a Greek default could trigger a financial catastrophe for other, much bigger economies - in particular Italy and Spain. And it seems it is Italy that is now seen as the lead candidate for that contagion. But why is this? Prudent Italy? According to Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel, "Italy has great economic strength, but Italy does also have a very high level of debt and that has to be reduced in a credible way in the years ahead." As with Greece, she and other eurozone leaders believe the solution is more government austerity - spending cuts and tax rises - by Rome. However, some economists might disagree with her assessment. The Italian government's debt, at 118% of GDP (annual economic output) is certainly high, even by European standards. But dig a little deeper, and the picture changes. Unlike their counterparts in Spain or the Irish Republic, ordinary Italians have not run up huge mortgages, and generally have very little debt. That means that according to the Bank of International Settlements Italy as a country - not just a government - is not actually terribly indebted compared with other big economies such as France, Canada or the UK. Continue reading the main story Crisis jargon buster Use the dropdown for easy-to-understand explanations of key financial terms: GDP GDP Gross domestic product. A measure of economic activity in a country, namely of all the services and goods produced in a year. There are three main ways of calculating GDP - through output, through income and through expenditure. Glossary in full Moreover, the large debts of the Italian government are nothing new. It has got by just fine with a debt ratio over 100% of its GDP ever since 1991.
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