Berlusconi outlines election plans
Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi waves during a political rally in Milan today. Photograph: Paolo Bona/Reuters.
Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi announced the beginning of his "last great electoral and political battle" today with a sweeping promise to cut taxes and the cost of government if his centre-right party wins elections this month.
Speaking at a rally in Milan, he disclosed what he had billed before the speech as a "shock proposal" - a promise to reimburse Italian families for a much-hated tax on their primary residences.
That tax, known as IMU, was imposed last year by outgoing prime minister Mario Monti to help with Italy's financial crisis, after it had been abolished in 2008 by Mr Berlusconi.
In a passionate speech to supporters, Mr Berlusconi said he would scrap the tax and refund payments already made.
He also promised that a centre-right government would eliminate a regional tax on businesses over the course of five years, would not increase VAT and would not impose a so-called "wealth tax" on higher earners.
"I want to fight a last great electoral and political battle," he said.
Mr Berlusconi said revenue to cover the elimination of the real estate tax on primary residences would come in part by striking a deal with Switzerland to tax financial activities in that country by Italian citizens.
He also promised a number of measures to cut the cost of government, to halve the number of parliamentarians and to eliminate public financing of political parties.
Most opinion polls say the centre-left coalition, headed by Democratic Party secretary Pier Luigi Bersani, will win the February 24-25th election.
But the gap between the centre-left and the centre-right has been narrowing steadily since Mr Berlusconi returned to active politics.
"We think we are close to an historic result. Simply put, we are sure we are going to win," he said to cheers.
Mr Berlusconi, who stepped down in November 2011 to make way for Mr Monti's technocrat government, will not be prime minister if the centre-right wins.
That job will go to Angelino Alfano, secretary of Berlusconi's People of Freedom party (PDL).
Mr Berlusconi had said earlier that he would be the economy minister in a centre-right government.
In his speech today, he said he would be both economy minister and industry minister.