The Italian government has approved a long-awaited decree that will allow households to choose between different suppliers of electricity.
It concerns a European Union energy market reform that must be applied by July the 1st. The decree, which comes into effect immediately, is a special last-minute measure, as there were concerns the deadline would not be met. A cabinet official announced that the liberalisation of the power market will go ahead on time.
It aims to protect consumers from unfair price hikes as they change their supplier. The decree is also needed to guarantee supplies for those who have not made up their minds about switching companies. But analysts say it will be many years before Italians notice the financial benefits of the increased competition.
In Italy there is not enough electricity produced to meet demand, so it has to rely on France and Switzerland for top-ups. That is partly why Italians pay more than other Europeans for power. Like France, Greece and some eastern European countries, Italy is well behind the UK in liberalising the power market. That step was taken in the early days of the Blair government in 1998.