By Nicole Winfield, AP
ROME–A government-mandated report has confirmed what many Italians long suspected: The 11,000 euros (US$14,300) that Italian lawmakers earn each month far outpaces what their peers in some of Europe’s largest economies get. Italy’s bloated public sector and the privileges of its political elite have come under fire as the country battles its debt crisis with tax hikes, labor market and pension reforms that are hurting ordinary Italians. Premier Mario Monti has vowed to trim the cost of governing as part of his austerity measures, and has renounced his own salary as premier and economy minister. The report, published Tuesday, looked at comparisons between labor costs for lawmakers in Italy compared to France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria. It also considered 34 public agencies in Italy to see if there were analogous ones in the other countries. The commission’s president hopes the findings will provide “food for thought” even while stressing the difficulty in comparing data from wildly diverse governments.
International markets have punished Italy in recent months for failing to come up with a coherent strategy to deal with its 1.9 trillion euros (US$2.5 trillion) debt mountain. That drove up the borrowing rates for the eurozone’s third-largest economy and effectively forced Silvio Berlusconi from office. His replacement, the well-respected economist, Monti, has formed a government of technocrats to grapple with the problems and has already undertaken a series of unpopular spending cuts and tax hikes. The findings, which the authors freely admit are incomplete and provisional, showed that a lawmaker in Italy’s lower Chamber of Deputies earns 11,283 euros a month followed by 8,503 euros for a Dutch lawmaker, down to as little as 2,813 euros for one in Spain. The Italian salary is fully taxed, but there are perks that are either more generous than, or similarly generous in other countries: 3,503 euros a month tax-free in cost of living allowances and free travel on trains, planes, boats and Italian highways. Only German lawmakers have a higher cost of living allowance at nearly 4,000 euros, while Belgian lawmakers get none. Adding to the strain on public coffers is the 3,690 euros in office expenses the government spends every month for each Italian deputy. Only France spends more, at 6,412 euros — though both France and Germany spend much more to pay the deputy’s assistants: a maximum of 9,138 euros in France and 14,712 euros in Germany, while Italian deputies have to pay their assistants out of the office budget. The findings sparked a new round of calls for an end to the privileges of Italy’s political class, given that ordinary Italians are being asked to make sacrifices including a sales tax that has already increased one percentage point to 21 percent and is due to rise further to 23 percent in September. “Parliament can no longer find excuses to not approve cuts to its privileges,” Antonio Di Pietro, head of the left-leaning Italy of Values party, wrote on his blog. The study also set out to determine if 34 Italian public agencies had corresponding ones in the six other countries analyzed.