ITALY NEWS

Fat cats strike back

Professional establishments resist liberalisation
(issue no. 37/2006 / July 13, 2006)
Italian professionals are up in arms. Pharmacists, lawyers and bakers supported taxi drivers on Tuesday in protesting against Prodis national liberalisation decree, which will open their protected professions to competition. Pharmacists, for example, are furious over plans to allow Italian supermarkets to sell non-prescription drugs, saying the move will create risks for public health.

At the same time, lawyers demanded that the Italian government abolish new measures affecting their profession. The decree, unveiled by new Premier Romano Prodi, abolishes the minimum fee regime adopted by lawyers, allowing no-win, no-fee practices to be introduced into Italy. Lawyers would also be permitted to advertise their services and set up partnership firms. The Italian Association of Young Lawyers said that the government must do some back-peddlinglowering fees and allowing indiscriminate advertising does not mean liberalising the market. On the contrary, it means putting it in the hands of large companies, the only ones who will be able to offer cheap services.

Meanwhile, bakers renewed their complaints over the governments plans to abolish restrictions on the number of baking licences available. Assipan, an association representing 60 percent of Italian bakers, said that this is just a gift to big retailers and will allow bakers who have been operating illegally to legalise their businesses. The decree will penalise small, traditional bakers, it said.

Taxi drivers have been in revolt for days over the new national initiative, which includes measures to deregulate the taxi licence system and increase the number of taxis in circulation. All the categories of protesters complained about the governments failure to consult them over the measures. Notaries and car insurance firms have also slammed the decree, as have banks, which will prevent them from charging clients who close their accounts. The costly approval of a notary would no longer be needed for the sale of second-hand cars, boats and motorcycles, while certain restrictions on competition in the car insurance sector would be removed.

The government has stood by the decree, saying it will bring down prices and abolish anachronistic privileged market positions. Prodi said on Monday that the decree was in the general interest and would allow Italy to lose 10 kilos of fat and gain 5 kilos of muscle. He added that the high price of bank and car insurance services were out of order. Bersani, meanwhile, said the decree was just a start and that other protected sectors would soon come under examination. Consumer groups applauded the decree, saying it would save Italian families up to 1,000 euro a year. They urged the government to stick to its guns, stressing that citizens would also benefit from the reduction in red tape.

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