ROME, March 12 (Reuters) - Italy's lower house on Thursday approved a reform that converts the country's largest cooperative banks into joint stock companies, a measure that, if passed by the Senate, is expected to spur mergers between the so-called "popolari" lenders.
The Chamber of Deputies voted 290 to 149 to pass the government decree that scraps ownership limits and voting system that gave shareholders one vote each regardless of the size of their stake. The reform now moves before the Senate.
Shares in the popolari banks, including Banca Popolare di Milano and Popolare Emilia Romagna, extended gains after the vote. (Reporting by Steve Scherer, editing by Valentina Za)