ITALY NEWS

Promises in progress

Liberal reforms brought to parliament
(issue no. 49/2007 / February 8, 2007)

A fresh government drive to liberalise the Italian economy was hailed by consumer groups last week but also sparked protests, including one by fuel station operators, who called for a 14 days of ongoing strikes.

The reforms approved by Premier Prodi’s cabinet will have immediate effect and include streamlining business start-up rules, liberalising the opening hours of small businesses, abolishing certain mobile phone and bank charges and allowing supermarket chains to sell petrol and newspapers. The measures follow a first deregulation package, approved in July, aimed at ending anti-competitive practices in several protected fields. These measures affected lawyers, notaries, pharmacists, taxi drivers, banks and car insurers. Prodi said the new decree would further the government’s goal of boosting competition and bringing down prices to the benefit of the consumer.

Other measures in the decree include the abolition of extra bank charges on overdrafts; more advantageous terms for mortgage holders; the elimination of some of the red tape for people opening up small businesses, particularly hairdressers, barbers, beauticians and driving instructors; greater transparency in airfare advertising; a requirement for public services to accept payment using credit and banking cards; and clearer expiration dates on food products. The decree will make it easier for motorists to obtain car insurance or sell their vehicles and allows them to use personalised number plates. It also provides tax-break incentives for individuals, businesses and non-profit organisations who give money to job-training institutes, and it forces the post office to compensate customers if post is delivered late or goes missing.

Although the decree has already come into effect, it must now be approved by parliament to prevent it lapsing. Consumer groups said they hoped it would not be watered down during the parliamentary process as protests gather pace. ‘Bersani must hold out against the lobby groups and corporations and parliament must approve the decree as it is, without too many revisions’, representatives said.

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