Italy: Sick of hypocrisy and hungry for change

Italian lawmakers have given final approval for the proposed austerity plan. The approved package includes budget cuts, tax hikes and changes to the country's costly pension system.

Earlier on Wednesday, Italy's Chamber of Deputies voted in favor of the package, which aims to reduce the country’s high deficit by 54 billion euros. But only after the second vote occurred did the plan legally come into force.

However, there has not been a dominant majority in the voting, as 300 Parliament members voted against the austerity plan. Only 14 votes tipped the scale in favor of the package. No one in the Parliament abstained from the voting.

The voting was accompanied by massive anti-austerity protests in the capital. Hundreds of activists clashed with the police in the streets of Rome, according to the Associated Press.

Storekeepers near the Pantheon monument in the neighborhood hastily shuttered display windows. Police helicopters were seen buzzing overhead, and riot police fanned out through the squares and alleys, herding the protesters away from Parliament and from the prime minister’s downtown residence.

The package of measures has already been passed by the Senate, despite weeks of wrangling and mass public protests. 

Just hours ahead of the final decision the government won a vote of confidence in parliament clearing the way for approval of the fiscal package.

But, even if passed, many wonder if it will be enough, saying that after years of economic stagnation and a culture of government excess spending, it may be too little, too late.

There is also growing public concern that those who impose the harsh cuts on a long-suffering population are themselves showing little sign of belt tightening.

“You see, it’s a top level menu, like a three star Michelin restaurant, but with very cheap prices,”

explains  Gianluca Di Feo, editor at l’Espresso magazine.

“You have fish made in a great way and served in a great way and it costs €1,20 – many times less than fast food.”

This cheap yet exclusive menu, leaked to the Italian magazine, is no Michelin-starred bistro.

“We published the menu of the inside of the restaurant of the parliament, and this restaurant with so cheap price for the politicians costs 5.5 million euro each year,” Di Feo reveals.

And it is the taxpayer left footing that whopping bill – a fact that has been hard for many to stomach.

“We are in an economic crisis and only normal people like us feel this crisis, politicians do not pay the crisis because they do not care about the interests of Italy. They care only about their own interests," student protester Serena told RT. “We are angry, sick and tired.”

Outside the parliament building a protest movement has been growing, led by Gaetano Ferrieri, who has been on hunger strike for months.

“All the people here are hungry for a future for their children. And we don’t see that at the moment. But to make the politicians listen, we know we need to get three million people here and we hope they’ll come,” says Ferrieri.

They are protesting against what they say is the politicians’ abuse of taxpayers’ money and an inability to deal adequately with the economic crisis in the country.

“We are asking for a reduction in the salaries of the parliamentarians because they are the largest salaries in all Europe. In a year, an Italian politician gains €180,000. In Spain, for example, they are on €35,000,” explains student protester Serena.

But the controversial spending does not end there. Politicians have €400,000 allocated for language courses and over a million euros spent just for their stationery. And as public anger builds, the protest movement has been gaining momentum.

“We risk facing something like the Greek protests where you will have old people with less pensions, young people who have no way to find jobs and unemployed. The situation is going to be very complex,” predicts l’Espresso editor, Gianluca Di Feo.

Whilst all across Italy costs are to be cut – in social spending and people’s wages – when it comes to the politicians, it seems no expense is spared, and now people’s appetite for change is growing.

Singing the Italian national anthem outside the parliament building, the protestors are determined to have their voices heard. So far, no politician has come to speak to them, but they have vowed to remain here and for the hunger strike to continue until they get some answers.