Italians still happy with new prime minister despite tough measures

Thu, Feb 2, 2012, 00:00

IN THEORY, Italian prime minister Mario Monti has done just about everything he could to make himself the most loathed man in Italy. In practice, after two months in office during which he has introduced a series of draconian austerity measures, his approval rating is still remarkably high at 57 per cent, according to surveys released this week by dailies Corriere Della Seraand La Repubblica

The measures introduced so far by Mr Monti’s non-party political cabinet of unelected technocrats has hardly been designed to win friends and curry favours. VAT rates have gone up, property taxes are about to return, the pension system will undergo a radical haircut while, to top it all, the taxation rate on petrol has been increased or, put another way, the price of petrol has risen. Now Mr Monti has launched a crusade against those categories, including bakers, taxi drivers, pharmacists, lawyers, notaries, railway workers and news agents whose mediaeval-guild style work practices have long made Italy an anomaly.

For example, thanks to the restrictive work practices imposed by the lobbies which administer these professions, it is almost impossible to do the following things in Italy – get fresh bread on a Sunday; get your hair cut on a Monday; find a bank that is open for more than an hour in the afternoon; avoid payment of a minimum standard (usually high) fee from lawyers and notaries.

The short history of the Monti government has been marked by a series of protests and strikes by workers ranging from lorry and taxi drivers to railway workers and public service employees. Even pharmacists are on the warpath, with one of their protest ads claiming Monti will so impoverish them they will be left with only their underpants.

Yet his popularity rating continues to rise. In Paris this week, he received a “European Personality of the Year” award, while EU commentators have renamed the infamous Merkozy duo “Merkonti”, given Mr Monti’s burgeoning influence at EU meetings.

Perhaps there is an explanation, one offered by comedian and political activist Beppe Grillo in a recent TV interview when he said: “After what went before him , even Jack the Ripper would win approval ratings…”