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May 22, 8:17 AM EDT

EU urges members to address inequality as economy recovers



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EU urges members to address inequality as economy recovers

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- The European Union urged member states Monday to take advantage of the bloc's recovering economy to strengthen their public finances and push through reforms that tackle social inequality.

The advice came in economic policy guidance for the bloc's 28 member states that was published by the European Commission. It recommended "boosting investment, pursuing structural reforms and ensuring responsible fiscal policies."

The advice aims to address social pressures seen as fueling a wave of nationalist populism throughout Europe that is tearing at the fabric of the bloc.

Tackling inequality "is firmly at the heart of our assessment. We have turned the page of the crisis. The next chapter is social," EU Social Affairs Commissioner Marianne Thyssen said.

The commission stressed that economic growth in the EU and the 19 nations that use the euro currency was close to 2 percent in 2016 as public finances recovered. It said employment reached a record of nearly 233 million people, with unemployment at its lowest level since 2009.

"With the economy moving forward, we need to restore opportunities for those left behind and keep pace with changing skills needs by investing in high quality education and training," Thyssen said. "Productivity increases should be reflected by higher wages."

Among the recommendations for member states was a raft of previously agreed measures to help heal Italy's finances and get its economy growing again. Rome's progress in achieving them has been slow and often uneven.

The EU is urging an overhaul of the Italian justice system, stepped up efforts to combat corruption, bank reforms and an overhaul of property values for tax purposes. Most Italians whose home is their primary residence are exempt from property tax on their home, but those owning a second or more homes must pay tax on those residences.

The pace of reform has slowed as Italian politicians jockey for position and propose electoral reforms ahead of elections due in spring 2018.

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Associated Press writer Frances D'Emilio in Rome contributed.

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