High salaries for Italian lawmakers stirs anger

ROME (AP) — A government-mandated report has confirmed what many Italians long suspected: The (euro) 11,000 ($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 (euro) 1.9 trillion ($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 (euro) 11,283 a month followed by (euro) 8,503 for a Dutch lawmaker, down to as little as (euro) 2,813 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: (euro) 3,503 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 (euro) 4,000, while Belgian lawmakers get none.

Adding to the strain on public coffers is the (euro) 3,690 in office expenses the government spends every month for each Italian deputy. Only France spends more, at (euro) 6,412 — though both France and Germany spend much more to pay the deputy’s assistants: a maximum of (euro) 9,138 in France and (euro) 14,712 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.

Much of the debate in Italy over cuts to public spending has focused on reducing the duplicative functions of Italy’s regional and provincial governments. The study though found that such divisions existed in other countries.

On the other hand, there were several Italian public agencies that had no counterparts elsewhere including the “independent commission for the evaluation, transparency and integration of public administration,” the authority overseeing public contracts and one making sure essential public services work during Italy’s frequent strikes.

While the findings imply possible areas for streamlining, the study’s authors note that many of those jobs may be being carried out in other countries, just not as independent commissions with their own administrative bureaucracies. And the study didn’t investigate whether there were agencies in other countries that had no counterparts in Italy. And during the six-month course of the study, three of the Italian agencies were either eliminated or merged into other government structures.

Enrico Giovannini, the head of Italy’s national statistics bureau Istat and the president of the commission, said clearly each country has different needs. Italy, for example, is the only one of the seven that has an agency to administer assets seized from the mafia.

But he said the data, albeit provisional, should provide “food for thought” over the coming months.

“We have put all the data on the table, now it’s up to the politicians or government to make decisions, and the public opinion to assess,” he said in a telephone interview.

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