Italian MPs have narrowly backed Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s austerity plan, aimed at putting the brakes on the debt crisis threatening the whole euro zone.
They voted by a majority of 14 in favour of the plan. The much-altered measures were passed by the Senate on Tuesday; they are now set to become law.
The vote – by 316 in favour to 302 against – had been seen as a test for Silvio Berlusconi’s leadership, and effectively became a vote of confidence in the government. It has survived, but only after the debate exposed deep divisions in the ruling coalition.
The question is now whether Berlusconi, weakened by sex scandals and corruption trials, can enforce promised reforms.
The mix of tax hikes and spending cuts is aimed at balancing the budget by 2013. But where the axe falls has been the subject of fierce debate.
“We are protesting against this austerity package because they are trying to take money away from where there is none, and they’re not taking money from where it is. It is just like that, really, there is a part of Italy that is completely protected and there is another which is suffering and completely overloaded,” said the main opposition leader Pierluigi Bersani.
The vote brought a small demonstration outside parliament.
Shortly afterwards angry protesters threw water over one centre-right politician, once a member of Berlusconi’s coalition, who voted in favour.
“Idiot” they shouted as he was led away.
There have been many protests and strikes by Italians unimpressed with Berlusconi’s warnings that without the austerity plan, the country risks ending up like Greece.