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Italian Cabinet approves divisive liberalization proposals

Italian Cabinet approves divisive liberalization proposals

Italy's Cabinet on Thursday approved a package of heavily contested liberalization measures aimed at making it easier for entrepreneurs to open businesses ranging from beauty parlors to cinemas, and for consumers to buy gas, newspapers and cigarettes.
Officials at Premier Romano Prodi's office said the package includes a decree with measures that will take immediate effect and a law proposal. The measures were approved after hours of discussion and further details were not immediately available as the Cabinet meeting was continuing into the night.
Earlier in the week, operators of Italy's gasoline retail network agreed on a two-day strike to protest the center-left government's proposal to allow supermarkets to sell gasoline.
The government aims to liberalize several areas of the economy, such as energy, insurance and banking services, to boost growth and potentially lower prices for consumers.
The government's often-bickering coalition forces, ranging from Christian Democrats to former Communists, have presented various measures.
Italy's antitrust authority has urged the government to promote opening up the country's gasoline service station network, saying gasoline prices are higher in Italy than most other European Union countries even though there are comparatively more stations.
Starting up small businesses in Italy is complicated by rules often aimed at protecting those already in the sector, as well as slow-moving bureaucracy, leaving the process ripe for corruption.
News reports said some of the proposals on the agenda would reduce cell phone top-up costs and eliminate the mandatory distances between cinemas, newsstands, gas stations and other business, making it possible to open up more such establishments.
Liberalization has been bitterly contested. Last summer, protests by taxi drivers paralyzed Rome as they sought to scuttle a plan to auction off cab licenses. Pharmacists went on strikes over plans to allow the sale of nonprescription drugs in supermarkets.