Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Wednesday he will ask the European Commission to give Italy's poorer south a special status to help boost employment and tackle organised crime.

"We have to try to get Europe to recognise a special status for our south, to allow us to launch extraordinary measures for development," Conte said on Facebook before heading off to Brussels to meet new Commission head Ursula von der Leyen.

Special status would give the country's southern regions preferential and direct access to some EU programmes.

They are currently plagued with some of the highest youth unemployment figures in Europe.

Over 1.8 million families were living in absolute poverty in the south in 2018, according to the latest Eurostat figures.

The dearth of work opportunities for youngsters plays into the hands of recruiters for powerful organised crime groups.

"Youth unemployment in southern Italy exceeds 50%, there is a lack of investment, development policies and strategies to relaunch it," the Five Star Movement's members of the European parliament said in a statement.

They backed Conte's appeal for special status and said they would also take the fight to European austerity policies blamed for "emigration, poverty and unemployment" in the south.

Conte said he would also be calling on von der Leyen for a change to the EU's Stability and Growth Pact - which limits budget deficits in member states - and the "Dublin regulation", which assigns responsibility for migrants to the nation of first entry.