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FINANCE

Fast trains and extended building bonus: How Italy’s EU recovery plan could affect you

The Italian government has outlined how the €200 billion recovery plan will be spent in a draft document. Here's what you need to know about where the EU's financial aid will go and how it could affect you.

Fast trains and extended building bonus: How Italy's EU recovery plan could affect you
(Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP)

Prime Minister Mario Draghi has described the recovery plan as “an ambitious reform project” in his foreword to the hefty document that exceeds 300 pages, according to newspaper La Repubblica.

Included in the strategy to help lift Italy out of the Covid-19 economic slump are “four important contextual reforms – public administration, justice, simplification of legislation and promotion of competition”, wrote Draghi.

He stated there are “problems that risk condemning Italy to a future of low growth from which it will be increasingly difficult to exit”.

The aim of the ‘Piano Nazionale di Ripresa e Resilienza‘ (Recovery and Resilience Plan) is to build a more solid economy following the Covid-19 crisis – and encourage growth after Italy fell into fiscal fatigue, seeing its biggest shrinkage in its GDP since the end of World War II.

READ ALSO: Italy to spend 40 billion more to help virus-hit economy

It’s estimated that the funds will work to improve Italy’s GDP by 3.6% by 2026.

The plans form part of a wider EU Recovery Fund joint borrowing scheme, distributed among the 27 member states and amounting to a total of €750 billion.

Italy’s Prime Minister, Mario Draghi. Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / POOL / AFP

Italy has the biggest chunk out of any member state at more than 200 billion euros, which will gradually be released over six years.

Here’s how the Italian authorities plan to spend their share.

READ ALSO: The building bonuses you could claim in Italy in 2021

More chances to access the building super bonus – but not for all types of housing

The building super bonus, which provides considerable amounts of state aid to renovate old and energy-inefficient housing in Italy is pegged to get a wedge of the recovery fund.

The deadline for accessing this pot, which was first introduced in the ‘Decreto Rilancio‘ (Relauch Decree), has been extended from 2021 to 2023. That means there’s more chance to claim the costs for renovating property.

“In order to cope with the long depreciation times of building renovations, to stimulate the construction sector – which has been in serious crisis for years – and to achieve the challenging goals of energy savings and emission reductions to 2030, we intend to extend the 110% super bonus measure recently introduced,” Draghi stated.

While this may come as a relief to those stalling in their renovation plans, this pushed back deadline only applies to social housing for now.

To make the scheme available to all the other types of property covered by the super bonus beyond 2021, it’s claimed that another €10 billion are needed.

Italy’s ‘green revolution’

Creating a more sustainable future for the country is also on the agenda.

The Italian authorities aim to pump money into energy efficiency, protection of land and water resources and the promotion of green enterprises.

“The government intends to update and refine national strategies in the areas of development and sustainable mobility, environment and climate, hydrogen, the automotive and the health sector. Italy must combine imagination and creativity with planning capacity and decisiveness,” claimed Draghi.

“The government wants to win this challenge and deliver a more modern country to the next generations, within a stronger and more supportive Europe,” he added.

The eco innovation ideas also include creating around 14,000 public electric charging points in cities and urban cycle paths stretching 570 km.

READ ALSO: ‘We’re not Denmark’: Is Rome ready for a cycling ‘revolution’?

Students enter in the Italo Calvino school in Turin. (Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP)

Plan to bolster educational reform

Italy also wants to assign part of the funds to improving the country’s educational sector.

€31.9 billion are allocated to education and research, making this area amount to almost a fifth of the whole budget.

According to the document, these resources are aimed at “strengthening the education system, digital and STEM skills, research and technology transfer”.

Over 10 billion euros are assigned to improve and expand education and training services – while some €7.6 billion will be spent on improving and upgrading school buildings.

The plan aims to spark a digital revolution in education, as institutions should become “modern, wired and innovation-oriented thanks to newly designed classrooms”.

Extra cash is set aside for teacher training and recruitment, which forms part of a wider mission to “increase the supply of services”. The government hopes to tackle school dropout with the construction and renovation of “about 900 buildings to be used as gyms or sports facilities”.

As for children’s services, funds are granted to provide an extra 228,000 pre-school places.

READ ALSO: Italy loses almost one million jobs in a year to the coronavirus crisis

€25 billion for Italy’s rail network

Transport is also due to get a share with investment in high-speed trains and makeovers for railway stations.

The objective is to halve the time to approve projects and cut travel hours from North to South but also from East to West of Italy.

In the next 5 years, the government wants to create “a more modern, digital and sustainable infrastructure system”.

Digital communications and innovation

Included in the plans are ideas to push Italy forward in the digital sector.

Authorities aim to create a new single platform of digital notifications to communicate effectively with citizens and businesses.

READ ALSO: How to use your Italian ID card to access official services online

The goal is to reach “over 40 million Italians with existing platforms for identification”. This includes using the electronic ID card, ‘carta di identità elettronica’ (CIE) and the government portal SPID.

Some recovery funds will also be used to encourage digital payments between citizens and public administration, in a bid to move away from a cash society and increase better tracing of money.

Finalised plans are due by the end of the month

Each country has been thrashing out how to best spend its cut – and time is ticking for Italy to file its strategy.

The European Commission set a deadline of April 30th for receiving each government’s final version of how they intend to use their share of the recovery pot.

Although Italy is facing economic difficulties, Draghi is confident that the country can pull themselves out of the financial doldrums: “Recent economic history shows that Italy is not necessarily doomed to decline,” he said.

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UKRAINE

Berlusconi’s bad break-up with Putin reveals strained Italy-Russia ties

The chummy relationship between former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian President Vladimir Putin goes back decades. The invasion of Ukraine has put it under pressure.

Berlusconi's bad break-up with Putin reveals strained Italy-Russia ties

After a tycoon bromance, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi is struggling to break up with Russia’s Vladimir Putin over the Ukraine war — like many in his country, where ties with Moscow run deep.

The billionaire former premier’s unwillingness to speak ill of Putin is echoed by other leading Italian politicians, while in the media, there are concerns that pro-Russian sentiment has warped into propaganda.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi is committed to NATO and the EU, strongly backing sanctions against Moscow, and at his urging a majority of Italy’s MPs approved sending weapons to help Ukraine defend itself.

But much of Draghi’s coalition government — Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Matteo Salvini’s League and the once anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) — has long pursued a “special relationship” with Moscow.

Italy used to have the largest Communist party in the West, and many businesses invested in the Soviet Union in the 1960s, while Russians in turn sought opportunities here.

Barely a month before the February 24 invasion, Putin spent two hours addressing top Italian executives at a virtual meeting.

Beds, hats, parties

Berlusconi, 85, has been out of office for more than a decade but remains influential both in politics and through his media interests, as founder of the Mediaset empire.

He was an ardent admirer of the Russian leader, and a close chum — they stayed in each other’s holiday homes, skied together and were snapped sporting giant fur hats.

“They were two autocrats who mutually reinforced their image: power, physical prowess, bravado, glitz,” historian and Berlusconi author Antonio Gibelli told AFP.

Putin gave Berlusconi a four-poster bed, in which the Italian had sex with an escort in 2008, according to her tell-all book. He in turn gave Putin, 69, a duvet cover featuring a life-sized image of the two men.

In the months before the Ukraine war, Berlusconi continued to promote his close ties, including a “long and friendly” New Year’s Eve phone call.

It was not until April, two months after Russia’s invasion, that he publicly criticised the conflict, saying he was “disappointed and saddened” by Putin.

He has struggled to stay on message since then.

Speaking off the cuff in Naples last week, he said he thought “Europe should… try to persuade Ukraine to accept Putin’s demands”, before backtracking and issuing a statement in Kyiv’s support.

“Breaking the twinning with Putin costs Berlusconi dearly: he has to give up a part of his image,” Gibelli said.

Meanwhile, the leader of the anti-immigration League, Salvini, who has proudly posed in Putin T-shirts in the past, has argued against sending weapons to aid Ukraine.

The League did condemn Russia’s military aggression, “no ifs and no buts”, on February 24 when Russia invaded.

But an investigation by the L’Espresso magazine earlier this week found that, in the over 600 messages posted by Salvini on social media since Russia invaded, he had not once mentioned Putin by name.

He did so for the first time on Thursday, saying “dialogue” with Putin was good, and encouraging a diplomatic end to the war.

‘Biased media’

Many pro-Russian figures are given significant airtime in the media, which itself is highly politicised.

“Italy is a G7 country with an incredibly biased media landscape,” Francesco Galietti, founder of risk consultancy Policy Sonar, told AFP.

TV talk shows are hugely popular in Italy, and “one of the main formats of information” for much of the public, notes Roberta Carlini, a researcher at the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom at the European University Institute.

But she warns they often “obscure facts”.

Italy’s state broadcaster RAI is being investigated by a parliamentary security committee for alleged “disinformation”, amid complaints over the frequent presence of Russian guests on talks shows.

Commercial giant Mediaset is also in hot water after airing an interview with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in which highly polemical claims went unchallenged.

It defended the interview, saying good journalism meant listening to “even the most controversial and divisive” opinions.

“RAI is a reflection of the political landscape, with its many pro-Russian parties. And Mediaset… well, Berlusconi is an old pal of Putin’s, so what do you expect?” Galietti said.

He also points to a decades-long culture in Italy of allowing conspiracy theories — particularly on the interference of US spies in Italian politics — to circulate in the media unchallenged.

“You end up with a situation where Russia Today (RT) is considered as authoritative as the BBC,” he said.

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