Italy braces for belt-tightening as austerity plan is passed

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Italy braces for belt-tightening as austerity plan is passed

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Is the price too high to pay?

That is what some are asking as Italy gave final approval to a 48 billion euro austerity plan aimed at averting a major financial crisis.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi turned up at the lower house of parliament, having not been seen in public for days. The vote went his government’s way but the centre-left opposition was scathing.

“It is a budget law made by Berlusconi, thinking of himself and those like himself, only,” said Antonio Di Pietro, leader of the Italy of Values party. “It is a budget law that, for the sake of the country, will need to be changed by the next government.”

Critics say the poor will be hardest hit by the package of spending cuts and tax raising measures.

Public sector workers downed tools to protest outside the Treasury.

“I am here for so many reasons,” said Anna Venturi, one of the protesters. “I am really not happy with this government and how things are being organised. I feel like everyone is taking a piece of me. It makes me feel that Italy is a great country but you cannot live well here anymore.”

Whatever the outcry, belt-tightening now looks unavoidable. Battling one of the euro zone’s biggest debt mountains, Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti aims to balance Italy’s budget by 2014.