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Italy govt wins controversial budget confidence vote

24 Dec 2018, 01:17 ( 4 Months ago)

DF-Xinhua Report
Italian President Sergio Mattarella (C, front) poses with members of the new cabinet after the swearing-in ceremony at the Quirinal Palace in Rome, Italy, June 1, 2018. File Photo Xinhua.

Italy's rightwing-populist coalition government won a confidence vote in the early hours of Sunday on its 2019 budget bill, sparking an outcry from the opposition.  

   On Wednesday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte hammered out a deal with the European Commission in order to avoid a costly disciplinary procedure, presenting a revised budget bill that lowered Italy's deficit spending target for 2019 from 2.4 percent to 2.04 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).  

   The revised bill contains the government's two flagship measures: a 780-euro basic monthly income for the poor and the unemployed and a lowering of the retirement age.   

   It also doubles taxes on non-profit organizations, imposes an "eco-tax" on luxury cars with high emissions, cuts investments by 4 billion euros, and extends a tax break to pensioners living abroad who are willing to come back to live in Italy, among other measures, Sky TG24 private broadcaster reported.  

   Critics of the bill, including business and industrial associations, analysts, and trade unions, say it could drive Italy's stagnant economy into recession by penalizing productive sectors of society to pay for expensive and counterproductive measures.  

   The bill was submitted to the Senate early on Sunday minutes before a confidence vote, making it impossible for lawmakers to review and debate its contents. This sparked an outcry from the opposition, whose lawmakers were seen on televised footage shouting, ripping up the bill and throwing the pages at the government benches. 

   Under Article 72 of Italy's Constitution, parliament must examine each bill submitted by government "article by article", and this procedure must be followed for any legislation dealing with the national budget.  

   In a joint statement, Italy's biggest and most powerful labor federations -- CGIL, CISL, and UIL -- called for "a great national demonstration in January" against the "wrong-headed, short-sighted, recessive" budget, which "cuts growth and development, employment and pensions, cohesion and productive investments" and whose approval in the Senate on a confidence vote "represents serious damage to parliamentary democracy".

   The opposition center-left Democratic Party said it would appeal to the Constitutional Court and called for a demonstration in Rome on December 29 and throughout the country on January 12 to protest against the budget bill.  

   Democratic Party president Matteo Orfini tweeted that "what took place in the Senate is extremely grave, on both method and merit. A wrong-headed, dangerous, unjust budget bill was imposed on parliament without giving (lawmakers) a chance not only to debate it, but even to read it."  

   Italy's two deputy prime ministers -- Luigi Di Maio of the populist Five Star Movement and his coalition ally, Matteo Salvini of the rightwing League party -- took to Facebook to express their satisfaction at the passage of the bill.

   Di Maio said he is "proud" that the basic income for the poor will "kick in by March", while Salvini said: "Did we make miracles? No. Are we geniuses? No. But we kept our word...this government has balls".  

   The 2019 budget bill now goes to the Lower House, or Chamber of Deputies, for final approval by Dec. 29.