Italy moves to ease austerity torment

AFP-JIJI

Italy’s Cabinet on Saturday approved emergency measures aimed at boosting growth and relieving pressure on struggling citizens, from reducing bills and red tape to increasing credit for businesses.

“There are many measures in the ‘to do’ law,” which is expected to create 30,000 new jobs in infrastructure alone, Prime Minister Enrico Letta said. “Many of them give Italians the possibility to carry out operations necessary to relaunch the country’s economy,” such as investing in machinery or taking on new workers in a move aimed at tackling high unemployment, he said.

The eurozone’s third-largest economy performed worse than previously thought in the first quarter of the year, shrinking by 0.6 percent instead of the 0.5 percent estimated earlier, while the unemployment rate in April rose to 12 percent. The jobless rate among youths has spiraled and now stands at 40.5 percent.

Letta was quick to stress the new coalition government’s unity in approving the measures — despite tensions in recent days over some of the more contentious proposals.

The decree allocates €3 billion ($4 billion) for public works projects this year, of which some €600 million will be invested in the national rail network. Among measures aimed at easing the pressure of austerity programs imposed in 2011 to ward off the eurozone debt crisis, energy bills will be reduced by €550 million — in part by cutting taxes.

In an effort to protect homeowners, those who owe less than €120,000 ($160,000) will not have their homes repossessed, unless they own more than one.