Italy approves post-Covid economic recovery plan

Italy's parliament overwhelmingly approved the government's huge European Union-funded pandemic recovery plan Tuesday, just days before the deadline to submit it to Brussels.

Italy approves post-Covid economic recovery plan
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi arranges his papers at the end of his speeches in the Italian Parliament on April 26th. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Prime Minister Mario Draghi unveiled the 222.1-billion-euro ($268.3-billion) programme on Monday, saying it would address both the damage wrought by Covid-19 and Italy’s long-standing structural issues.

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

Lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies voted by 442 to 19 to support the plan, with 51 abstentions.

The upper house Senate followed suit, giving approval late on Tuesday the evening, with 224 members voting for the plan and 16 against, with 21 abstaining.

Some opposition lawmakers complained about the lack of time to study the details in the programme’s more than 300 pages, which Draghi said would decide Italy’s destiny and its credibility on the world stage.

“We will be responsible for the success or failure” of this decision, he told the Senate.

“A failure would be serious for us and for the future of Europe. There will not be another opportunity for a common fiscal policy,” he said, adding that such a policy was “in our interest as one of the most fragile countries in the EU”.

Draghi, who has been prime minister since February, emphasised the importance of meeting the EU’s deadline to submit the plan.

“We felt it was very important to approve the plan by April 30th, because this allows us to have access to European funds as soon as possible,” he said.

The Italian Parliament at Montecitorio Palace in Rome as Draghi presented his plans on April 26th. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI/AFP

Italy was the first European country to be hit by the pandemic in early 2020 and remains one of the worst affected, with the EU’s highest reported death toll and one of the deepest recessions.

The country is pinning its hopes on a 222-billion-euro investment and reform plan funded largely by the European Union.

Italy, with the eurozone’s third-largest economy, is set to be the biggest recipient of the bloc’s 750-billion-euro post-pandemic recovery fund.

Draghi told lawmakers on Monday that his plan would help “repair the economic and social damage” caused by the pandemic.

More than 119,000 people with coronavirus have died in Italy, while the economy contracted by 8.9 percent last year and a million jobs have been lost.

But Draghi said the plan also “addresses some weaknesses that have plagued our economy and our society for decades”.

The government said the plan represents a significant investment in both young people and women, particularly hard hit by unemployment. Businesses will have financial incentives to recruit people from both categories.

The five-year plan has six main elements, said a government spokesman.

Nearly 50 billion euros will go towards a push to get Italy’s internet network up to speed. 

Italy ranked fourth from the bottom in the European Commission’s latest index of digital competitiveness (DESI).

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

Nearly 68 billion euros will go towards a “green revolution and ecological transition”.

Projects include plans to increase recycling and to relaunch local public road and rail transport using less polluting vehicles. 


The government also wants to invest in renewable energy and explore hydrogen power.

Italy will put 31.4 billion euros towards modernising the country’s transport infrastructure, prioritising regional rail services and high-speed trains.

It will spend 31.9 billion euros on education on research, and more places for young children in creches and nursery schools.

Small businesses across Italy have been hit hard by shudowns due to Covid-19 since March 2020. Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

And as part of its social inclusion initiative it will invest 22.4 billion euros in helping people get into the workplace, investing in women’s businesses for example.

There will be 18.5 billion euros set aside for work to reinforce preventive health work and the computerisation of the healthcare system.

At the same time, the government has vowed to modernise the country’s public administration system, getting younger people in and improving training.

READ ALSO: Beat the queues: 19 bits of Italian bureaucracy you can do online

Reforms will also try to speed up the court system and cut red tape in the country’s administrative procedures.

The plan will go before both chambers of parliament this week for approval, starting Monday.

The European Commission set a deadline of April 30th for receiving each government’s final plan for using their share of the recovery pot.

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Covid-19 still causing 1,000 deaths a week in Europe, WHO warns

The World Health Organization's European office warned on Tuesday the risk of Covid-19 has not gone away, saying it was still responsible for nearly 1,000 deaths a week in the region. And the real figure may be much higher.

Covid-19 still causing 1,000 deaths a week in Europe, WHO warns

The global health body on May 5 announced that the Covid-19 pandemic was no longer deemed a “global health emergency.”

“Whilst it may not be a global public health emergency, however, Covid-19 has not gone away,” WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge told reporters.

The WHO’s European region comprises 53 countries, including several in central Asia.

“Close to 1,000 new Covid-19 deaths continue to occur across the region every week, and this is an underestimate due to a drop in countries regularly reporting Covid-19 deaths to WHO,” Kluge added, and urged authorities to ensure vaccination coverage of at least 70 percent for vulnerable groups.

Kluge also said estimates showed that one in 30, or some 36 million people, in the region had experienced so called “long Covid” in the last three years, which “remains a complex condition we still know very little about.”

“Unless we develop comprehensive diagnostics and treatment for long Covid, we will never truly recover from the pandemic,” Kluge said, encouraging more research in the area which he called an under-recognised condition.

Most countries in Europe have dropped all Covid safety restrictions but some face mask rules remain in place in certain countries in places like hospitals.

Although Spain announced this week that face masks will no longer be required in certain healthcare settings, including hospitals and pharmacies, with a couple of exceptions.

Sweden will from July 1st remove some of its remaining Covid recommendations for the public, including advice to stay home and avoid close contact with others if you’re ill or have Covid symptoms.

The health body also urged vigilance in the face of a resurgence of mpox, having recorded 22 new cases across the region in May, and the health impact of heat waves.