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ENERGY

Italy to bring in new aid measures as energy prices soar

The outgoing Italian government was working on emergency plans to save energy and help keep bills down, ministers said on Friday, as prices reached a new high.

The French government has published guidelines on what to do if you are struggling to pay your energy bills.
The Italian government is expected to extend funding for energy bills and discounts on fuel taxes. Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

Ministers said on Friday the government would act to limit the impact of the recent surge in energy prices on households and businesses, with a new decree expected to be released by the end of August, according to newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Gas and electricity prices have risen to historic highs in Italy and other European countries as Russia, on which Italy is heavily dependent for gas, restricted supplies in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.

Gas prices shot up this week to 321 euros per megawatt hour – a rate Italian business groups slammed as ‘unsustainable’ and consumer groups described as an ‘emergency’.

The price of gas at the beginning of July was below 100 euros per mw/h.

Electricity prices also continued to soar this week, reaching 718 euros per megawatt hour in Italy.

“Action must be taken in the next few days”, said deputy economy minister Laura Castelli.

“There is scope for a new decree to calm the effects of the price of gas,” she told Corriere.

EXPLAINED: What is Italy doing to cut the rising cost of living?

Castelli said “an upper limit must be quickly fixed on the price of gas” as well, adding that “a battle within the EU is underway” on this point.

The government was likely to extend existing tax cuts on fuel and energy prices under the decree, according to media reports, though no official announcements had been made.

The government so far has spent nearly 50 billion euros this year on a series of measures to help firms and families with surging energy costs and rising consumer prices.

Carlo Bonomi, head of Italy’s industrial lobby Confindustria, this week warned of the risk of widespread company failures if energy prices don’t come down.

Bonomi urged the government to create a plan for rationing gas and to provide new subsidies to shield manufacturers.

Italy’s existing gas emergency protocol envisages three stages going from a state of pre-alert, imposed at the end of February after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, before moving to one of alert and then to a state of emergency.

READ ALSO: What are the limits on air conditioner use in Italy?

The government is meanwhile also reportedly bringing forward the implementation of a new energy saving plan aimed at cutting the nation’s gas and electricity consumption amid concerns about energy security.

The government announced in July that the plan includes a new limit on the use of heating air conditioning in public buildings.

It is now expected to include a “second part that provides for more severe savings”, Corriere reported, to be implemented immediately instead of waiting for winter as previously planned.

The final energy-saving plan is expected to be published by Wednesday, August 31st, at the latest, Corriere reported: the same day Russian energy provider Gazprom will close the Nord Stream gas pipeline to Europe until September 2nd, saying the stoppage is for “maintenance” reasons.

Outgoing prime minister Mario Draghi will now oversee the launch of the energy-saving measures, after saying in July that this would be left to the next government following early elections called for September 25th.

Italy is one of Europe’s biggest consumers of gas, which currently represents 42 percent of its energy consumption, and it imports 95 percent of the gas it uses.

Draghi’s government has been working to lessen the country’s reliance on Russian gas, with ministers predicting Italy will be “independent” from Russia’s gas supply by the middle of 2023.

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POLITICS

Italy’s hard-right PM will not back down on reporter defamation trial

Italian PM Giorgia Meloni said on Tuesday she will not withdraw her defamation suit against anti-mafia reporter Roberto Saviano, despite growing criticism that her position of power might skew the trial in her favour.

Italy's hard-right PM will not back down on reporter defamation trial

On Tuesday, the hard-right leader told Italian daily Corriere della Sera that she was confident the case would be treated with the necessary “impartiality”.

Meloni sued anti-mafia reporter Saviano for alleged defamation after he called her a “bastard” in a 2020 televised outburst over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but took office last month after an electoral campaign that promised to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the trial, which opened earlier in November, to be scrapped.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia reporter on trial for ‘defaming’ Italy’s far-right PM

“I don’t understand the request to withdraw the complaint on the pretext that I am now prime minister,” Meloni said.

“I believe that all this will be treated with impartiality, considering the separation of powers.”

She also added: “I am simply asking the court where the line is between the legitimate right to criticise, gratuitous insult and defamation.”

Saviano, best known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, faces up to three years in prison if convicted.

The case dates back to December 2020 when Saviano was asked on a political TV chat show for a comment on the death of a six-month-old baby from Guinea in a shipwreck.

On the occasion, he railed at Meloni, who in 2019 had said that charity vessels which rescue migrants “should be sunk”.

Saviano is not the only journalist Meloni is taking to trial. One of the country’s best-known investigative reporters, Emiliano Fittipaldi, said last week the prime minister had sued him for defamation.

READ ALSO: Italian PM Meloni takes another investigative reporter to court

That trial is set to start in 2024.

Watchdogs say such trials are symbolic of a culture in Italy in which public figures intimidate reporters with repeated lawsuits, threatening the erosion of a free press.

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