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EU offers some budget relief to nations like France, Italy struggling with big debt, deficits

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi delivers a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Tuesday Jan. 13, 2015. Renzi reviewed the outgoing EU presidency. (AP Photo/Christian Lutz)

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi delivers a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Tuesday Jan. 13, 2015. Renzi reviewed the outgoing EU presidency. (AP Photo/Christian Lutz)  (The Associated Press)

The European Union is giving member states struggling with debt more leeway in their spending plans despite strict EU rules on deficits and debt.

EU officials raised the possibility Wednesday for nations like Italy and France to contribute to a planned 315 billion euro ($371- billion) investment scheme aimed at spurring growth and jobs in Europe, even if their budgets are already under scrutiny by the EU for overspending.

Those prepared to launch broad structural reforms and which have an EU-approved action plan for doing so also qualify. But countries must respect their medium-term budget plans or face possible sanctions.

Despite the flexibility, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the budget restraint rules remain in place. He said that "we haven't changed the rules."