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Renzi urges innovation in Europe, Italy to lead the way

Italy's prime minister warned Europe not to be distracted by a leadership battle but concentrate on reforms, with his country leading the way.

ROME: Italy's prime minister, who scored a dramatic win in the European Union (EU) elections, warned Europe on Saturday not to be distracted by a leadership battle but concentrate on reforms, with his country leading the way.

"Before we discuss names, let's agree on the agenda," Matteo Renzi said in an interview with La Stampa and other leading European papers amid growing tension over whether Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker should become the next EU Commission president.

While German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed Juncker on Friday, others - including British Prime Minister David Cameron - have called for a reformer at the helm of the EU executive.

Asked for his stance on Juncker, Renzi said he was "more interested in the [state of the] job market than positions of power", adding that whoever gets the post "must love Europe, but through innovative eyes."

The 39-year-old - whose Democratic Party won 40.8 per cent at last weekend's elections, giving it the highest number of MEPs among Europe's leftists - vowed Italy would lead the way on much-needed reforms.

The Eurozone's third largest economy, which was rocked by the financial crisis, "has chosen stability, which means serious, hard-hitting reforms. We can say we want to change Europe because we are starting with reforms at home."

Renzi praised Germany as a model for reform, but called for a change of economic policy, warning that austerity alone was not enough.

"I have an excellent relationship with Merkel. Germany is not an enemy. This does not mean there isn't the possibility of having different ideas on many issues," he said.

"It is very clear today that it is in Germany's interests for Italy to do well. And Italy has all the conditions needed, provided that Europe focuses not solely on austerity, but also on growth. On growth, employment and reforms," he added.

Italy takes over the EU's rotating presidency in July, and the PM suggested the issue of boat immigration from North Africa may be on the cards - though he ruled out reforming the Schengen agreement that specifies which countries have to process newly arrived immigrants.

"Watching three-year-old children die at the bottom of the sea and saying it's not our problem is barbaric and immoral. We are saving many people with our Mare Nostrum operation," he said, by which Italy's navy sweeps the seas off its coasts looking for people in trouble.

"But Europe must call on the United Nations (UN) to intervene in Libya and generally have the capacity to manage the immigration phenomenon. We think Frontex could be better used," he added.

Italy has long borne the brunt of migrants making the crossing from North Africa to Europe, but EU border agency Frontex says there has been a significant rise in numbers in recent months.

The Italian navy rescued around 3,000 boat migrants over the past 24 hours, bringing the number of arrivals so far this year to 43,000 - the same number registered in the whole of 2013, according to Italian media reports.

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