Liberalised market sectors; additional taxes on real estate, yachts and petrol; pension reforms; and tax evasion measures: these are the main features of the 30-billion-euro austerity package the national government introduced before Christmas to ‘save Italy' from financial collapse (see TF 155).
Deemed necessary by government officials and European Union leaders, the tough measures have met with strong opposition in Italy.
Wildcat strikes by taxi drivers left thousands of locals and tourists on foot in Rome on January 12 and 13, and a nationwide taxi strike is set for January 23. Protesting the package of deregulations, which will make it easier to obtain taxi licences, taxi drivers in other cities have also been rallying.
Other sectors will be affected by the deregulations, which include measures to increase the number of pharmacies and notary offices, open up petrol distribution to greater competition, and will likely re-open the possibility of the privatisation of local Italian water companies, a proposal which was blocked last year by a referendum. Additionally, the Monti-led government has already done away with restrictions on opening times and sale dates for retail operations.
Next on the national government's agenda is boosting the economy and implementing reforms to Italy's labour market to make it easier for young people and women to secure employment. Recent figures from Eurostat show that one in four Italians is at risk of poverty or social exclusion, with those aged 18 to 24 the most at risk.
On January 13, ratings agency Standard & Poor's downgraded the government debt of nine eurozone countries, among them France, Austria, Italy and Spain, fanning anxiety over the eurozone's worsening debt crisis. Standard & Poor lowered Italy's and Spain's debt rating by two notches and did the same for Portugal and Cyprus. S&P also cut ratings on Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia.