A trillion euros in promises: How parties plan to fix Italy

Italy suffers from a litany of problems, everything from a stagnant economy and high unemployment, to stifling bureaucracy and immigrants coming from Africa. The main contenders for the March 4 general elections have plenty of ideas on how to address such shortcomings, which have been deemed unrealistic by most observers.
Conservatives led by ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi are proposing a flat tax. Berlusconi says it would be equal to 23 per cent, while his far-right ally, the League, wants it set at 15 per cent.
The rightist coalition has also made waves with pledges to expel more than 600,000 failed asylum seekers and to exempt firms that hire unemployed youth from all taxes for six years. But the coalition is divided on other key issues: For example, the League wants to scrap pension reforms and flout EU budget discipline rules, while Berlusconi’s Forza Italia has pledged to respect them.
The protest party’s signature policy is the introduction of minimum income subsidies for poor households, which would cost an estimated 17 billion euros per year.
Its manifesto, which has been hit by plagiarism accusations, including from Wikipedia, also promises to scrap 400 “useless laws, “raise spending on health and pensions, and cut politicians’ perks. On migration, the M5S wants to fast-track asylum decisions to speedup repatriations of failed applicants. In addition, the party has said that undercover police should offer bribes to politicians and then arrest those who accept the money.
The ruling centre-left party says its election manifesto is the most realistic, with leader Matteo Renzi describing it as “a precise, almost boring list of achievements and objectives for the future.”
Key commitments include a reduction of corporate tax to 22 per cent, more generous childcare benefits and the introduction of a minimum wage at a yet-to-be determined level. The PD has also promised six-month free rail passes for the unemployed, free TV licences for the poor, 10,000 extra police and firefighters, and tax breaks for young people who move out of their parents’ homes.
The La Stampa newspaper has estimated that everything that has been promised to voters by all parties would cost 1 trillion euros ($1.23 trillion). Roberto Perotti, an economics professor from Milan’s Bocconi University, has ran more calculations for the centre-left La Repubblica daily.
He says proposals from the Berlusconi bloc would increase the deficit by up to 300 billion euros, while those from the M5S would grow it by 63 billion euros and from the PD by at least 56.4 billion euros. Italy can hardly afford such largesse, given that its public debt ratio, equal to more than 130 per cent of gross domestic product, is the fourth highest in the world, after Japan, Lebanon and Greece. — dpa