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Card payment rule could hit Italy’s small firms

Shops in Italy may soon be forced to accept credit and debit card payments for items costing less than €5, a move that struggling small businesses say could be "devastating".

Card payment rule could hit Italy's small firms
Italy is trying to force shopkeepers to accept sub €5 credit card payment. Photo: Department of Agricuture/Flickr

Italy's governing Democratic Party (PD) proposed the new legislation on Monday as an amendment to the wide-ranging fiscal reforms introduced with the so-called 'Stability Law' in June 2014.

“It's a question of freedom, citizens should be able to choose how they want to pay in any given situation,” Sergio Boccadutri, the PD candidate who presented the amendment told La Repubblica.

But struggling small business owners fear the move could have a heavy impact on their running costs and profits. 

Currently, guidelines state that shopkeepers can refuse card payments on any items below €30. But under the new proposals, they would be forced to accept payments via a debit or credit card for all items, or risk fines.

Current EU laws mean that banks can take a commission of 0.3-0.4 percent on each card transaction, on top of costs of around €180 for installing a card reader.

“We don’t accept card payments and I am aware that the government want to make this mandatory,” Maria, a 52-year-old newspaper stand owner in Rome, told The Local.

“This would be devastating for us because it would mean installing a card machine, which is costly in itself. And we don’t sell high cost items so to have to pay a percentage would mean taking away from the little money we do make.”

The same concerns were echoed by Luca Forza, a 47-year-old tobacconist.

“We don’t accept card payments because we don’t have a telephone line, so this would be a huge expense for us,” he said.

“We’d have to pay for the installation [of the line] first of all and then the running costs so it would be extremely costly.”

Certainly, the changes could be an important milestone as Italy – like the rest of the world – moves towards becoming a cashless society.

“I normally have change with me, but I suppose if one day you’re stuck and want milk or bread then it could be useful,” 68-year-old shopper Roberta Gallo said.

But a greater convenience for consumers only paints half the picture. The move also comes as Italy tries to stamp out fiscal evasion, which occurs on a huge scale across the country.

A significant portion of such evasion happens when shops, bars and other retail outlets don't issue receipts for 'insignificant' items such as newspapers, coffee or a haircut.

Paying with a card makes a receipt inevitable and could help the government get back some of the hundreds of billions it loses in unpaid taxes each year.

But the Italian retail association, Confesercenti, warned that the government needs to be careful not to pass the costs onto businesses.

“These changes could be devastating for businesses which rely on a high volume of low cost transactions such as tobacconists, newsagents and petrol stations,” the association said in a statement.

In total, Confesercenti estimates that card payments cost small businesses €1,800 a year.

By Patrick Browne and Ellie Bennett

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POLITICS

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Just weeks after going on trial in a case brought by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano was back in court on Wednesday facing allegations of defamation lodged by Meloni's deputy, Matteo Salvini.

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Deputy Prime Minister Salvini, whose far-right League party is a key member of Meloni’s coalition, is suing the journalist for calling him the “minister of the criminal underworld” in a social media post in 2018.

In November, Saviano went on trial in a case brought by Meloni for calling her a “bastard” in 2020 over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

READ ALSO: Press freedom fears as Italian PM Meloni takes Saviano to trial

Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but won September elections on a promise to curb mass migration.

Saviano, known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, regularly clashes with Italy’s far-right and says the trials are an attempt to intimidate him.

He faces up to three years in prison if convicted in either trial.

“I think it is the only case in Western democracies where the executive asks the judiciary to lay down the boundaries within which it is possible to criticise it,” Saviano said in a declaration in court on Wednesday.

He said he was “blatantly the victim of intimidation by lawsuit”, on trial “for making my opinion, my thoughts, public”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about press freedom in Italy

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the suits to be scrapped. Meloni refused in November, despite criticism that her position of power makes it an unfair trial.

Armed guard

Saviano has lived under police protection since revealing the secrets of the Naples mafia in 2006.

But when Salvini was appointed interior minister in a previous government in June 2018, he suggested he might scrap Saviano’s armed guard.

The writer reacted on Facebook, saying Salvini “can be defined ‘the minister of the criminal underworld’,” an expression he said was coined by anti-fascist politician Gaetano Salvemini to describe a political system which exploited voters in Italy’s poorer South.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia author Saviano won’t be ‘intimidated’ by Salvini

He accused Salvini of having profited from votes in Calabria to get elected senator, while failing to denounce the region’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia and focusing instead on seasonal migrants.

Salvini’s team are expected to reject any claim he is soft on the mafia.

Saviano’s lawyer said he will call as a witness the current interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, who at the time was in charge of evaluating the journalist’s police protection.

The next hearing was set for June 1st.

Watchdogs have warned of the widespread use in Italy of SLAPPS, lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists or whistleblowers.

Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with prison sentences from six months to three years, but the country’s highest court has urged lawmakers to rewrite the law, saying jail time for such cases was unconstitutional.

Saviano is also being sued by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano in a civil defamation case brought in 2020, before Sangiuliano joined the cabinet.

A ruling in that case could come in the autumn. If he loses that case Saviano may have to pay up to 50,000 euros in compensation, his lawyer told AFP.

Italy ranked 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, one of the lowest positions in western Europe.

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