Italy's right pledges tax cuts, immigration curbs, welfare reform

·3 min read
FILE PHOTO: Silvio Berlusconi meeting with League leader Matteo Salvini and Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni

By Gavin Jones

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's conservative bloc will cut taxes, crack down on immigration and scrap the current system of welfare benefits if it wins next month's election as expected, the group said in a joint manifesto.

The conservative alliance is dominated by two rightist parties, Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy and Matteo Salvini's League, flanked by the more moderate Forza Italia led by 85-year-old former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

A 15-point joint programme released by the parties on Thursday evening contains little detail and mainly reiterates pledges already made by the parties individually during the campaign for the Sept. 25 election.

It promises "lower taxes for families, firms and the self-employed", with a so-called "flat tax" or single tax rate, on annual income of up to 100,000 euros for the self-employed and on any increase in income from one year to the next.

Tax cuts are a traditional rallying cry for the Italian right, which argues that the boost to economic growth will offset any reduction in revenues.

The bloc also promises to increase minimum pensions and increase scope for early retirement.

Italy's Recovery Plan of reforms presented to the European Union last year in return for some 200 billion euros ($205.80 billion)of pandemic relief funds will be amended "due to the changed conditions, needs and priorities," the programme says.

It did not specify what it wanted to change.

The manifesto promises to curb illegal immigration, another strong conservative theme, by blocking migrant boats with the help of local African authorities and through the creation of "hot spots" run by the European Union to assess asylum requests before migrants reach the EU.

The conservative alliance is on track to win a comfortable parliamentary majority at the election, a study showed on Tuesday, helped by the divisions among its opponents.

Meloni, whose party leads most opinion polls, looks set to become Italy's first woman prime minister.

The programme promises an overhaul of the welfare system, increasing free nursery schools and child benefits but scrapping the "citizens income" poverty relief scheme introduced in 2019.

This will be replaced by "more effective measures of social inclusion and job creation", the programme says, without elaborating.

It envisages a reform of Italy's constitution to introduce the direct election of the president, replacing the current system in which the head of state is elected by parliament.

This is a long-standing centre-right proposal and will require a referendum unless the bloc wins a two-thirds majority in parliament.

On foreign policy, the conservative bloc pledges its "full adherence to the process of European integration," and to "respect the commitments made to NATO," including increased defence spending.

The parties say they will back Ukraine in its resistance against Russia's invasion while "supporting all diplomatic initiatives aimed at resolving the conflict."

In past years the League and Brothers of Italy have both said Italy should quit the euro currency, while Salvini and Berlusconi have often expressed their admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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(Reporting By Gavin Jones; Editing by Ros Russell)