Reuters International

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's government on Wednesday called a confidence vote over a decree that aims to provide state guarantees to banks seeking to sell bad loans and create a holding company for small credit cooperatives.

Parliamentary Relations Minister Maria Elena Boschi called the Senate vote, which starts at 1500 GMT, to accelerate the passage of the emergency decree, which will expire this week without parliamentary approval.

If the government loses a confidence vote it is obliged to resign, but defeat looks extremely unlikely in this case.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who has only a narrow majority in the Senate, can normally rely on the support of defectors from the crumbling centre-right party of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to ensure passage of important legislation.

The decree, which has been approved by the lower house, sets up a guarantee scheme aimed at helping banks and other financial institutions offload some of the 200 billion euros (161.19 billion pound) in bad loans that piled up on their balance sheets during three years of recession.

The plan, agreed after months of talks with the European Commission, would let banks bundle the loans into securities that can be then sold.

The decree also contains measures to pull together under a holding company the 371 credit cooperatives that are currently tiny fragments in an unwieldy and expensive system.

Credit cooperatives with assets worth at least 200 million euros, or that choose to make partnerships with lenders of that size, will be able to opt out of the new structure.

The holding company would have capital of at least a billion euros and the Treasury would be able to sell off some of its share if it needed to raise funds on the market.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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