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Italian government trying to bring Italy into 21st century PDF Print E-mail
Jan 29, 2012 at 10:01 AM

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Rome Registry office on a bad day

The government headed by Italian prime minister Mario Monti, this week continued its battle to bring Italy into the modern age by issuing a third major decree that hopefully will make life easier for the country's often frustrated citizens. The "simplify-Italy" package follows the controversial "liberalization" reform that is leading to protests from several high-visibility special interest groups  such as taxi drivers, lawyers and notaries, and is the third major undertaking  - the first being the Save Italy austerity plan) by the government of technocrats that took office following the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi in November. A fourth major reform, on the labor market (good luck with that Mario) is expected in March.


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The most recent decree (which like the others will have to be converted into law by Parliament) is designed to make a vast number of bureaucratic obligations easier and quicker and possible to complete on line. As a corollary, the plan wants to increase broadband and super-broadband facilities so that the 40% of Italians who are still telematically illiterate can be helped gain access to modern communications.

The new plan will, it is hoped, end treks to the Registrar's office to get documents ranging from birth certificates and wedding licenses to identity cards - now to expire on one's birthday - and changes of legal residence, the latter done by some 1.4 million people here every year. University enrolment and the announcement of grades will also be done on line. It will (supposedly) become easier to open a business, to get an invalid's pass for your car (assuming you are a genuine invalid) and renew your driving license if you are over 80 years of age.

I say "supposedly" because after several decades of life in Italy as a resident and working journalist, I have become convinced that Italians LIKEe to make things complicated. Several years ago when I was assigned by my then newspaper to cover some event inside the Chamber of Deputies, the procedure to get a journalist's pass - organized by the Association of Italian Parliamentary Journalists, that is by an organization of peers - was so convoluted (involving walking back and forth to the Chamber entrance several times - that one didn't know whether one should laugh or cry!

For strange some reason, last week's measures also included a ruling that panifici, that is bread makers, can now remain open on Sundays. The stay-open measure is, of course, optional because it is designed to fit into the spirit of the liberalization package that is still under consideration in Parliament, which is that of making the country and its businesses (of all types) more competitive and, at the same time, of making life easier, and hopefully less expensive, for  Italian consumers.

The bread makers, who are classified as artisans here, have long been pissed that people could go out on a Sunday morning and buy bread at their local supermarket. According to surveys, a majority of Italian shoppers would really greatly prefer to buy fresh bread every day, including Sundays, and now they will be able to do so. (Bakeries, in the sense of pastry shops, have traditionally been open  on Sunday mornings so that people could go out and buy cakes and pastries to take to their in-laws at lunch).

Actually, in my neighbourhood of Rome, Trastevere, the "forno" (literally, the oven) in Via del Moro has always made fresh bread on Sundays (maybe they were allowed because they also make pizza, who knows, or maybe there is some special Rome administrative measure, who knows), and is in fact so crowded that the last time I needed bread on  Sunday because friends were coming to dinner, I gave up and got some  off my friend Erminio, who owns the Tana di Noiantri restaurant in Via della Paglia. (In the end, my guests didn't eat any bread which I thought was what might happen, but you have to have it on the table, right?)

Anyhow, the Artisans' Union of Milan has already protested heatedly about the bread ruling, basically because they object to the fact that now all panificatori may feel obliged to work an extra day  to compete with those who decide to stay open. This has always been the reason why many shopkeepers here have, historically, been opposed to shops staying open on Sundays. It's basically a question of "Me, I don't want to work on Sundays so you shouldn't be able to either and to hell with the consumers". Nevertheless, in recent years, things have changed radically with store hours substantially, but not totally, optional. Getting back to my neighbourhood, along with the supermarkets, which are open either  half-day or a full-day on Sundays, there is still only one fruit and vegetable shop (in Via Francesco a Ripa) that is always open, and another small grocery run by a Bangladeshi, that is also open 7/24. But that is all. Many Italians don't want to give up their day off and family-run concerns understandably don't want to incur the expense of hiring someone to work on Sundays when they have to pay double-time.

So things have changed but have bee slow to change dramatically. In Bolsena, a small lake-town in upper Lazio where I have a weekend place, all the shops are open Sunday mornings from June through September when there are tons of tourists about. In the winter, Daniela, a small, somewhat wizened woman, has always kept her grocery open on Sundays (she likes to work, she says, it's her life). But later when I go out, if I want to get some apples for my horse (I forgot to do that yesterday) I will have to get in the car and go in the opposite direction to the Coop (supermarket). Bummer.

 

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