ROME, March 27 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said during his two-day visit to Italy on Thursday that he had "confidence" in the promised reforms of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and praised improving economic situation in the European Union (EU).
Speaking at a joint press conference after meeting Renzi in Rome, Obama said he was "favorably impressed by the energy" of the new Italian prime minister who "will know how to take Italy forward."
Renzi has presented an ambitious plan of structural reforms from fiscal measures to labor policies and political renewal to relaunch the economy of his recession-hit country.
Obama praised Europe's improving economic health. It was just a year and a half ago or two years, he recalled, that the United States was "very worried about the eurozone spiraling out of control."
He also stressed that the debate in Europe between growth and austerity was sterile as "public finances need to be in order, but the more you grow, the more public finances will be in order."
Obama warned the EU, however, against cutting too much from defense budgets, saying that the gap between spending by the United States and NATO allies in Europe had "become too significant."
Obama noted that the United States spends 3 percent of GDP on defense, while Europe spends just 1 percent. "There is a certain commitment countries must have" about their role in NATO, he said.
Days ago, Renzi had raised the possibility of cutting defense spending, including the allocated budget of around 11.8 billion euros (16.2 billion U.S. dollars) for the F-35 fighter jet program beginning in 2015.
Renzi said in the press conference that he hoped to finalize the free-trade treaty between the United States and the EU during the Italian six-month EU presidency, which will begin in July, or once it will be concluded.
The Italian prime minister stressed that his meeting with Obama reflected the "common values and ideals" shared by the two countries, whose "cooperation and partnership range from major international issues to everyday life."
On Thursday, Obama also officially announced the U.S. participation to the Milan Expo 2015 that will take place in Italy's business capital from May 1 through Oct. 31 next year. "We will come back to Milan with a pavilion," he said.
On the Ukraine crisis, Obama welcomed the financial aid package the International Monetary Fund agreed to extend to Kiev's authorities.
"We will do everything we can in order to help Ukraine, and I think it is important that we do not promises that we are not be able to keep," Obama said, noting "What we can make sure is that Ukraine's government is financially stable and elections go ahead as planned."
Obama arrived in Italy on Wednesday evening for talks with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and Renzi, as part of a six-day tour in Europe.