Italian public debt has swelled to its highest ever level, reaching 2.014 trillion euros ($A2.52 trillion) in October, the Bank of Italy says.

The record figure highlights the country’s fragile financial state in spite of the raft of austerity measures and reforms imposed by Prime Minister Mario Monti.

The Italian economy, the third-largest among the 17 European Union countries that use the euro, is in recession as the government has enacted spending cuts and tax hikes to get a handle on its debt.

The latest figures show the debt pile has risen by 3.7 per cent since January, when it was 1.94 trillion euros. With debts worth 126 per cent of the country’s annual economic output, Italy has the second highest debt-to-GDP ratio in the eurozone, behind only Greece.

According to consumer group Codacons, Italy’s debt load works out at 82,192 euros per household - up 4400 euros on the beginning of the year.

‘‘The Monti government would do well to consider that you don’t bring down debt only with taxes, but through an increase in revenues due to the generation of more wealth,’’ Codacons said in a statement.

The consumer group also criticised Monti for not doing more to cut waste, and specifically for dropping the battle to reduce the number of provinces during his mandate.

Monti was tapped by Italy’s president to lead the country in November last year after then-premier Silvio Berlusconi was forced to step down after international markets lost confidence in his ability to save the country from a Greek-style debt crisis.

Monti, a respected economist and former European commissioner, and his government of unelected technocrats won back a degree of international credibility through a series of tax hikes and fiscal reforms that have been unpopular - but largely accepted - at home.

Thanks to a combination of the European Central Bank offering to buy up unlimited quantities of short-term bonds in countries struggling with their debt and Monti’s reforms, Italy’s borrowing costs have been kept down in recent months.

However, markets were shaken this week when Monti announced that he would resign earlier than anticipated - after parliament passes its 2013 budget, expected by the Christmas break - saying it was impossible to carry on in government after Berlusconi’s political party withdrew its support in two crucial votes last week.

Since then Berlusconi has wavered over whether he would lead his party into the next election, now expected in February. The former premier on Friday said he was awaiting Monti’s decision on whether he will run.

AP