In hope of avoiding a fate akin to Greece, in the past few days both the Italian Chamber of Deputies (Lower House) and the Senate have given parliamentary approval to a hard-hitting austerity budget.
Included in this budget are plans for extensive spending cuts of around €48bn (£42 bn) over the next three years. These would focus on reducing Italy’s public debt, which happens to be one of the largest in the Eurozone.
In fact, despite evidently poor governance from Silvio Berlusconi’s Freedom Party, the cuts are certain to hit the least fortunate the hardest. Proposals include increases in health-care fees, cuts to family tax benefits and top-level pensions and the obvious public sector salary freeze.
Having only been approved on Friday, Sunday saw the rapid implementation of two key proposals from the austerity budget. Both health-care provisions, these changes are expected to cost families around €500 a year.
While, the necessity for drastic action on the Italian debt is clear, the IMF last week called for the ‘decisive implementation’ of spending cuts, it seems that the most vulnerable are bearing the brunt of these tough cuts. And, being the topsy-turvy world of Italian politics, not even an austerity budget can escape unnecessary controversy.
This has come in the shape of stealthy amendments made by Berlusconi and his Freedom Party to water down the proposed cuts to politician’s pay. Clearly not satisfied with the ludicrous expenses Italian politicians already receive (these can be up to €117,000 a year) Italian MPs are ensuring that their lavish lifestyles remain as unaffected as possible, despite very real concerns for many of the most vulnerable members of their population.
Here, it should be pointed out that Italian MPs can claim their expenses without needing to show receipts for housing, office staff, telephones and travel. And we thought our MPs were bad… As Union Leader, Raffaele Bonanni said, “The government and opposition have again teamed up to protect privileges which are unequalled in Europe.
You do wonder how much more the average Italian can take? But after all this is Italy, a nation where political scandal is part of the furniture. And supporters no doubt find Berlusconi, his lifestyle and his undeniable charisma to be captivating and dare I say aspirational, after all he has been elected about 45 times!
But surely these latest revelations are too much for the Italian public to handle, the Italian government and Berlusconi in particular have proven adept at escaping scandal, but in these uncertain times it can only be a matter of time before the public fight back. Otherwise, as a nation tightens their belt, a government will continue to live above reality.