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Italian austerity drive targets official cars

May 11, 2010

By Guy Dinmore in Rome

Published: May 11 2010

Attempts to cut Italy’s bloated state spending were fine as long as the target was ordinary civil servants and recalcitrant trade unions, but Renato Brunetta, minister for public administration reforms, is facing a tougher task in persuading ministries and local governments to cut back their vast fleets of official limousines.

Sleek Maseratis, costing more than €150,000 each, are a daily sight outside Rome’s ministries, part of an armada of what the media says totals more than 626,000 official cars – more than 10 times the number in France, Germany and the UK – and an increase of 50,000 over the past three years.

Mr Brunetta’s website says he does not even know how many cars there are, so the first step in his planned “rationalisation” is a census – “how many, who do they belong to and at what expense”.

Whether ministries and local governments co-operate remains to be seen, says a government source. “Brunetta has many people against him. He has made many enemies,” the source adds.

In the context of the Greek crisis and openly expressed fears of Italy being caught up in “contagion”, Giulio Tremonti, finance minister, last week reduced his forecasts for Italy’s economic growth and announced he needed to plug an additional budget gap of €25bn ($31.7bn, £21.5bn) – or 1.6 per cent of gross domestic product – over 2011 and 2012.

Known as “auto blu” – because of their livery and flashing lights – the fleet has become an incendiary symbol of official waste in the eyes of many Italians. Last week there was public uproar at government attempts to pass legislation that would shield official drivers from having points docked from their driving licences for traffic violations.

Pictures of six “auto blu” – some armoured – escorting two ministers from foreign affairs and the environment taking part in the Mille Miglia car rally also enflamed public opinion. Spectators shouted and booed as the rally gathered outside Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo fortress.

Mr Brunetta, who calls himself a revolutionary and won popularity in taking on the unions and cracking down on absenteeism in the civil service, is said to be determined to confront the issue.

An earlier transparency initiative to publish on his official website the lists of consultants and how much they are paid by ministries and local governments also ran into considerable internal resistance. One of the ministries said to have been least co-operative was Mr Tremonti’s.

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