ROME (Reuters) - The Italian government won a confidence vote on Thursday approving measures to deregulate the service sector which Prime Minister Mario Monti says are essential to boost growth.
The Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of the government, by 237 votes to 33, and the package of measures now goes to the lower house of parliament where it is expected to be finally approved later this month.
The government called the confidence vote to avoid prolonged debate on 1,700 proposed amendments to the plan, which affects sectors such as pharmacies, taxis, banks and lawyers.
Many of the deregulation measures, dubbed by Monti the “Grow Italy” bill, have been diluted or dismantled by parties protecting vested interests during more than two weeks of debate in a Senate committee.
For example, liberalization of taxi license distribution was abandoned, leaving authority on this with city mayors, who are seen as susceptible to the powerful local taxi lobbies, rather than a new transport authority.
However, some measures were toughened in the Senate, in particular for banks. The bill introduces virtually free bank accounts for low-income pensioners, and it bans banks from charging commissions on credit lines.
The governing committee of Italy’s banking lobby (ABI) resigned today to protest against the package.
The plan, which the government sent to parliament on January 20, was intended to stimulate Italy’s chronically slow growth after Monti pushed through a tough “Save Italy” austerity package in December-shortly after being brought in to fend off the euro zone debt crisis.
But critics say the modifications imposed by the broad coalition supporting Monti have taken most of the teeth out of the measures and dashed hopes of fundamental change.
Public transport workers staged rolling four-hour strikes hitting train and bus services across Italy on Thursday in protest at parts of the “Grow Italy” package, which trade unions say fails to address major structural weaknesses and lack of investment in transport services.
Reporting By Catherine Hornby and Steve Scherer; editing by Barry Moody