New Austerity measures bring fierce opposition in Rome

The Last Defense
Haneul Na’avi
13 April 2014

April 12 saw violence break out in the capital of Italy as protesters responded to new reforms proposed by current Prime Minister Matteo Renzi that would create significant reductions to public sector spending. Russia Today reported that clashes between demonstrators and the police resulted in around 80 injured citizens on both sides, including one protester that lost several fingers from a prematurely exploded firecracker.

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Clashes erupted between protesters and riot police near Rome’s Ministry of Industry on April 12, 2014. [Photo: APF]

The protesters, a combination of workers, students and activists, gathered at Rome’s Porta Pia and marched throughout the city, chanting in unison and waving Italian flags. The crowd convened in order to demand that the government introduce economic reforms, provide access to affordable housing, and reduce the current unemployment rate, which stands at 13% as of February. Many of the attendees donned Autonome-styled black outfits, hoodies, and Guy Fawkes masks, a common symbol of the Occupy movement, and marched until reaching the Ministry of Industry where the protest became violent.

The incident was the most recent of demonstrations since December 2013, in which supporters of the Forconi (Pitchfork) Movement assembled to protest Enrico Letta’s economic reforms which imposed further austerity, rising living expenses and taxes, and corruption within the Italian government and European banking system. Demonstrators blocked railway passages and governmental buildings in Venice, Bari, Milan, Turin and Palermo, and cities became embroiled in clashes between police and activists.

Italy has seen in recent months a surge in protest and secession movements that have threatened the country from several positions, and Renzi’s introduction as Prime Minister has inherited a host of problems from the former Berlusconi administration and global financial crisis.

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[Photo: Gregorio Borgia, AP]

Just recently, the northeastern city of Venice voted in a referendum to secede from the country in defiance of Italian officials, which prompted police officers to arrest several “secessionists” on April 2nd. Alberto Mingardi of the Library of Economics and Liberty states, “You could describe Italy as a country where the North pays taxes and the South consumes taxes […] The gap between the two parts of the country has been there for ages, and it did not narrow, in spite of the fluxes of transfers. It is only natural that economic stagnation exacerbates the problem.”

Rome has also seen severe difficulties after Renzi failed to secure a rescue package that would help prevent the municipality from defaulting on its current debt in a manner similar to that of Detroit. Regarding mayor Ignazio Marino’s lingering crisis, Z News writes, “the newly-elected mayor faces a budget deficit of 816 million euros ($1.1 billion) and the city could be placed under administration if he does not manage to close the gap with measures such as cutting public services.”

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Renzi speaking at a conference at the Senate in Rome [Photo: Remo Casilli, Reuters]

In a foreboding February 28tharticle from the Independent, the author illustrates the mayor’s sentiments. “Without the stop gap injection of €500m (£406m), Mr. Marino predicted chaos would ensue. ‘In March there won’t be money to pay 25,000 city employees, to pay for fuel for the buses, to keep the nurseries open, to collect rubbish or to organise the canonisation of the two popes, an event of a planetary scale,’ he [Marino] said.” Mayor Marino’s fears were realized with the outbreak of riots last Saturday.

A Reuters article details Renzi’s economic reforms, which were outlined in his Economic and Financial Document (DEF) and included a rescue package of 6.7 billion euros funded by 4.5 billion in public sector cuts, higher VAT taxes, and “indirect” taxes on banks. “His DEF, approved Tuesday by cabinet, includes plans for annual income-tax cuts of 10 billion euros targeting low earners, a cap on the salaries of top public-sector managers and higher capital-gains tax for banks,” Gazetta del Sud reports.

Renzi’s new economic policies have come under extreme criticism from colleagues and opposition parties for further impoverishing the middle and lower classes, and exacerbating current austerity measures already in place from institutions such as the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. Democratic Party (Partido Democratico) member and former junior economy minister Stefano Fassina complained that the DEF did nothing to change the current economic problems of Italy and would result in “less growth, fewer jobs and more public debt”, Gavin Jones of Reuters reports.

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