Da Financial Times del 30/10/2006
Originale su http://www.ft.com/cms/s/a836406a-6755-11db-8ea5-0000779e2340.html

Communists block Prodi’s pension reform

di Tony Barber

Rome - A dispute about pensions reform erupted in Italy’s government at the weekend immediately after Romano Prodi, prime minister, extracted pledges of loyalty to his leadership from the squabbling parties in his centre-left coalition.

Mr Prodi said all nine parties in his government had agreed to start discussions next January on overhauling Italy’s state pensions system, but two communist parties that hold the balance of power in parliament contradicted him.

The quarrel broke out after a meeting on Saturday of government ministers and party leaders which Mr Prodi convoked to quash gossip that his premiership is in danger only six months after he won a knife-edge general election victory.

“The reform policy is continuing, even if it’s not as fast as I would like,” Mr Prodi told reporters. “The ruling coalition is this one, it won’t change, and it will last for the entire legislature.”

He said his government had set its sights on boosting Italy’s annual gross domestic product growth rate to 3 per cent, far in excess of the 1.3 per cent that, according to the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, is Italy’s present rate.

“Prodi has had a mid-autumn night’s dream, talking about staying in power for five years and increasing GDP growth to 3 per cent a year,” said Fabrizio Cicchitto, an opposition legislator, said on Sunday.

“He has brushed aside the evidence of political fragility in his government that emerged only on Saturday. No sooner did he talk about pensions reform than he was confronted with a veto from the communists.”

Pensions expenditure accounts for 14.7 per cent of Italy’s GDP, the highest in the 15 countries that made up the European Union before its expansion to 25 member-states in 2004.

The burden constrains Italy’s ability to reduce its public debt, forecast this year to be 107.6 per cent of GDP, and cramps much-needed investment in education and infrastructure.

Under a law passed by the government of Silvio Berlusconi, the former centre-right premier, the retirement age for many Italians will rise to 60 from 57 in January 2008.

Reformers in Mr Prodi’s government want to build on this modest change, but they were frustrated when the communists and other leftwingers blocked inclusion of pensions reform in Italy’s 2007 budget.

Some Italian businessmen view this setback as an example of how Mr Prodi’s government, which barely has a majority in parliament’s upper house, is hostage to its leftwing elements.

Likewise, politicians in the Democrats of the Left and Margherita, the two government’s largest parties, are worried that Mr Prodi’s concessions to the far left are discrediting them with Italian voters.

The tensions in the government and Mr Prodi’s precarious parliamentary majority have prompted suggestions that some centre-left leaders may abandon him and form a broader coalition with moderate opposition forces.

However, Mr Prodi fought back last week by calling a confidence vote on his fiscal measures that compelled discontented members of his coalition to fall in line.

Giuliano Amato, the interior minister who is sometimes tipped as a replacement for Mr Prodi, was asked on Saturday whether there might be a “post-Prodi” government.

“There is always a ‘post’, it just depends when it comes,” Mr Amato replied. “But a post-Prodi government is not a theme for today.”

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