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Europe warns Italy over spending, but gives green light to the budget

The EU has said it will approve Italy's latest budget, despite issuing a warning to the country over its 2020 spending plans.

Europe warns Italy over spending, but gives green light to the budget
Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

The European Commission said on Wednesday that it was giving the green light to Italy's budget plan for 2020, news agency Ansa reports, even though it risks “non-compliance with the Stability and Growth Pact in 2020”.

READ ALSO: What Italy's new budget proposals mean for foreign residents

European Commission heads warned that Italy's budget plan risks breaching the bloc's tough public spending rules next year.

France, Spain, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Finland and Belgium were also in the EU's cross-hairs over bloated budgets, but it put particular pressure on Rome to deliver reforms.

Often flouted, the EU rules on public debt and deficits are the cornerstone of eurozone membership: Countries using the single currency are asked to limit deficit spending to three percent of GDP and overall debt to 60 percent.

Of particular concern for Brussels was Italy's mountain of debt that is expected to balloon to a huge 136.8 percent of GDP, the highest in the eurozone except for bailed out Greece.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in Brussels. Photo: AFP

Italy has “not sufficiently used favourable economic times to put their public finances in order,” said commission vice president Valdis Dombrovskis.

“In 2020, they plan either no meaningful fiscal adjustment or even a fiscal expansion,” he added.

In order to fight ballooning debt, national governments are under orders from the commission to reduce long-term costs such as public pensions, or to make it easier to legally hire and fire workers.

Rome is in disagreement with the EU on the ambition of pledged reforms, and will have to negotiate with Brussels over the coming months in order to avoid potential penalties next year.

READ ALSO: Four key economic challenges facing Italy's new government

A year ago, for the first time ever, the European Commission rejected a national budget when it turned down Italy's 2019 spending plans that were submitted by the country's previous government, a populist far-right coalition.

After loudly refusing to cave to Europe's demand, Rome later acquiesced and accepted the tighter spending and debt reduction demanded by Brussels.

That government later collapsed after far-right League leader and former interior minister Matteo Salvini tried to force early elections. It was replaced by a coalition of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and centre-left Democratic Party.

“We cannot compare the budget debate we are having this year… a serious one… with the confrontation we had a year ago,” EU economics affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici said earlier this month.

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Who can vote in Italy’s elections?

With Italy's next general election scheduled for September 25th, who is eligible to vote - and how can those who are do so?

Who can vote in Italy's elections?

Who can vote in Italy?

For the upcoming election in September, the answer is simple: only Italian citizens are eligible to vote in Italy’s general elections.

Foreign EU nationals who are resident in Italy can register to vote in municipal and European parliamentary elections, but national elections are reserved for Italians only.

Until recently, not even all Italian adults could participate fully in the process: just last year, voters needed to be over the age of 25 to take part in senate elections.

That finally changed with a reform passed by parliament in July 2021. It’s now the case that any citizen over the age of 18 can vote for their representatives in both the lower house and the senate (both ballots are held at the same time).

READ ALSO: An introductory guide to the Italian political system

You don’t need to be resident in Italy to vote; Italian citizens living abroad can register to vote via post.

In fact, Italy is unusual in assigning a set number of MPs and senators to ‘overseas constituencies’ that represent the interests of Italians abroad.

These constituencies are split into four territories: a) Europe; b) South America; c) Northern and Central America; d) Africa, Asia, Oceania and Antarctica. Each zone gets at least one MP and one senator, with the others distributed in proportion to the number of Italian residents.

Up until recently, there were as many as 12 MPs and six senators dedicated to overseas constituencies. This will drop to eight MPs and four senators from September, thanks to another reform enacted in late 2020.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy’s government collapsed in the middle of summer?

How can you vote?

While Italy has a postal vote option for citizens living abroad, Italians resident in Italy must vote in the town in which they are registered to vote (i.e., their comune, or municipality of residency), at the specific polling station assigned to them.

What's behind Italy's declining voter turnout?

Italian citizens who are resident in Italy can only vote in person. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

The lack of a postal vote for Italians in Italy is thought to be one of the main factors behind Italy’s declining turnout in elections, and a parliamentary committee on elections has advised introducing one to help remedy the situation; but for now, only in-person votes count.

READ ALSO: What’s behind the decline in Italian voter turnout?

Italians living abroad who are on the electoral register should receive their ballot papers (pink for the Chamber of Deputies, yellow for the senate) from their consulate in the lead up to the election. Their completed ballots must arrive back at the consulate no later than 4pm local time on September 22nd.

Those who haven’t received their ballot papers by September 11th should contact their consulate to request that the documents be resent.

Italians in Italy must have a tessera elettorale, or voter’s card, to be allowed to vote in person. The card contains the holder’s full name, date of birth, address and polling station. Every time the holder goes to vote, the card – which takes the form of a piece of reinforced folded paper – is stamped.

The tessera elettorale should be automatically sent out to Italians at their home address when they reach the age of 18; for those who acquire citizenship and move to Italy later in life, it should be automatically sent to their address by the comune where they are registered as a resident.

If the tessera gets lost, damaged, or becomes filled up with stamps, the holder should request a new card from their comune. 

When an individual moves towns, they should turn in their tessera in order to receive a new one from their new comune. For those who move house but stay in the same town, their comune should send an official slip confirming the new address that can be used to update their tessera.

Anyone who hasn’t automatically received a tessera elettorale and is entitled to one should contact their comune to claim theirs.

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