Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Italy wants salvation without pain

New Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti has won public support, according to a new poll (AP)

Italians are overwhelmingly in favour of cutting their country's enormous debts, as long as they do not have to make personal sacrifices to achieve it.

An AP-GfK poll showed that 93% consider public debt a priority, but only about a quarter favour reforming employment laws to make it easier to fire workers or approve of raising the retirement age to 67. Those reforms are considered critical to curbing Italy's public spending and boosting its economic growth.

The poll shows that most Italians retain a favourable view of the European Union and 76% think Italy should stay in the 17-nation eurozone.

The poll was taken during the first days of economist Mario Monti's new government, brought in to tame Italy's £1.6 trillion debt. Market turmoil and loss of confidence in Italy's ability to repay its debts forced premier Silvio Berlusconi to resign, ending his 17-year domination of Italian politics.

Italy's economy is hampered by high wage costs, low productivity, fat government salaries, excessive taxes, choking bureaucracy, and an educational system that produces one of the lowest levels of college graduates among rich countries.

Yet as the third-largest economy in the eurozone, Italy is considered too big for Europe to bail out like it did Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

Mr Monti got high marks from Italians surveyed after he was tapped to lead the country, garnering a 67% favourability rating. Only 10% had a negative view and 16% were neutral. He has pledged to reform the pension system, re-impose a tax on homes scrapped by Mr Berlusconi, fight tax evasion, streamline civil court proceedings, get more women and youths into the work force and cut political costs.

But critically, only 32% of Italians are strongly confident that his government of bankers, academics and corporate executives can fix the country's economic ills. Some 42% say they're "moderately confident" and 22% say they have little or no confidence he can turn Italy's finances around.

While there is some hopefulness about the future of the economy - 55% anticipate a better situation five years from now - the longer-term picture is gloomier: Only 35% of Italians think children born today will be better off 20 years from now, while 43% anticipate a harder life for the next generation.

The survey found that overall, corruption ranked high as a problem facing Italy: 87% of those surveyed said it was an "extremely" or "very serious" problem. Unemployment, the debt and organised crime followed.

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