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The leader of Italy's ruling Democratic Party (PD), Matteo Renzi, attends a event to present the centre-left's election programme ahead of a March 4 parliamentary election, in Bologna, Italy, February 2, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

(reuters_tickers)

By Alessandro Bianchi

BOLOGNA, Italy (Reuters) - Italy's ruling centre-left Democratic Party (PD), trailing in opinion polls ahead of a March 4 ballot, said on Friday it would help families, boost pensions and introduce a minimum wage if it won re-election.

Former prime minister Matteo Renzi accused his rivals of making unrealistic promises as he unveiled the PD's 100-point election manifesto, which was strongly pro-Europe and included pledges to cut Italy's debt mountain and boost growth.

"We propose 100 small steps forward for Italy, 100 small, concrete measures, achievable goals," Renzi said in the northern city of Bologna in a hall packed with party bigwigs.

Opinion polls predict that a centre-right alliance that includes Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party will win next month's vote, with a combined score of around 37 percent -- not enough to control parliament.

The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement looks set to emerge as the largest single party, on around 28 percent. The PD is seen on around 23 percent, paying the price for internal schisms and the slow pace of economic recovery.

The centre-right is promising to introduce a flat-tax of just 23 percent for individuals and companies if it wins, while the 5-Star says it will introduce a "universal wage" of up to 780 euros ($973) a month to alleviate growing poverty.

Renzi said such measures were unsustainable. "It seems that the political debate is not focused on real issues. We, instead, have put pragmatism at centre stage," he said.

PRO-EUROPEAN

Amongst the PD's flagship proposals was a pledge to give families 400 euros a month per infant for three years to help with childcare costs and allow tax deductions of 240 euros per child until they turned 18.

It also vowed to cut the corporate tax rate to 22 percent from 24 percent and drop social security contributions on wages to 29 percent from 33 percent. A minimum wage would be introduced, it said, without giving details.

The PD additionally promised to set the minimum pension at 750 euros after at least 20 years of contributions, from around 500 euros at present. Forza Italia is promising to hike the minimum pension to 1,000 euros.

The PD did not say how it would pay for its various proposals, but said it expected economic output would rise to 2 percent a year against some 1.5 percent at present, suggesting it was betting on an increase in overall tax revenues.

It envisaged lowering the debt mountain from 132 percent of gross domestic product -- the highest in Europe after Greece -- to 100 percent over a 10-year period and said it would respect the EU's budget deficit ceiling of three percent of GDP.

While opposition parties have been highly critical of the European Union, threatening fierce clashes over budget rigour, the PD presented itself as fervently pro-European.

As such, it said it wanted a eurozone economy minister appointed, the introduction of joint eurobonds to finance the single currency bloc and the direct election by voters across the continent of the European Commission president.

By the same token, a PD government would demand a halt to EU funding for countries like Hungary and Poland that were refusing to take in some of the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have reached Italy from Africa over the past four years.

"Our Europe is one of values, culture and the rule of law," said the PD's Sandro Gozi, European affairs minister.

(Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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Reuters