Brussels Italians knock Berlusconi

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Brussels Italians knock Berlusconi

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Sylvio Berlusconi’s attempt to convince the European institutions he can balance Italy’s books by 2013 failed to convince Italian protesters gathered in Brussels. He has lost all credibility in their eyes.

That is partly over his austerity plan, and partly because in going to Brussels he missed an appointment with magistrates, to respond to allegations that he paid hush money to a businessman who introduced him to prostitutes.

One demonstrator fed up with Berlusconi said: “The austerity plan can act to reduce the deficit but it is a great weight on growth prospects.”

Another sceptic added: “The plan was modified four or five times. This shows that the government is incapable of responding to the country’s needs and that European and international pressures are needed to get results, even small results.”

In Rome, hundreds of ordinary Italians hung around outside the parliament, representative of many more who are frustrated with the Berlusconi administration’s project. It is far costlier than originally proposed and several weeks late in coming.

Last week, thousands demonstrated in major cities, before the people’s mobilisation ran out of steam. The figures are daunting: the 1.9 trillion euro national debt is 120 percent of Italy’s GDP. To win the European Central Bank’s backing, the government reinforced its plan.

Among the main measures, a one percent VAT rise to 21 percent is meant to garner 700 million euros between now and the end of the year — and more than four billion euros annually by 2013. People earning more than 300,000 euros per year would pay a three percent extra solidarity tax. And women would retire five years later than they do now, at age 65, like Italian men.

There are also provisions for national and local administrative spending cuts and more action against tax dodgers, including, in cases of serious convictions, prison.