PARMA, Italy (Reuters) - Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, buoyed by a strong showing regional polls, promised reforms on Saturday to “free” Italy from stifling taxes and red tape and to boost the power of the executive.
With three years remaining of his mandate and a large parliamentary majority, the conservative leader is well placed to meet long-standing pledges to simplify Italy’s labyrinthine bureaucracy, a major drag on its economy, and speed up its snail-paced justice system.
“We are convinced that we need to free Italy from the oppression of taxes, bureaucracy and the judiciary,” Berlusconi told a conference of business leaders, pledging to implement the reforms before his term expires in 2013.
The 73-year-old billionaire, whose Mediaset group controls three of Italy’s four private TV channels, said his priority was constitutional reform to modernise state institutions and give more authority to the executive, particularly the prime minister.
“One of the main objectives is to give the prime minister the powers enjoyed by his European counterparts,” Berlusconi told the Confindustria association, pledging there would be wide consultation before any move to a “semi-presidential” system.
Berlusconi’s attempts to sideline parliament using decrees and confidence votes since winning power in 2008 have angered opposition leaders and even senior members of his centre-right coalition, such as parliamentary speaker Gianfranco Fini.
Confindustria President Emma Marcegaglia welcomed the promise to overhaul a judicial system which was discouraging investment and lighten a tax burden which consumed between 60-80 percent of some companies’ profits, she said.
However, she called on the government to make “specific commitments with specific times”. She said, for example, investment of 2.5 billion euros was needed in research and infrastructure.
While the economic crisis hit the popularity of other European governments, Berlusconi’s coalition actually made up ground on the opposition at last month’s regional polls, wresting four regions from the fragmented opposition.
However, Berlusconi, now in his third government and Italy’s longest-serving post-war prime minister, has been accused of tailoring legislation to suit his personal interests.
Plans for judicial reform were announced last year after the Supreme Court overturned an immunity law, leaving him facing two trials for tax fraud and bribery. His government has passed a law effectively giving him and his ministers immunity from trial for 18 months pending the judicial and constitutional reforms.
Berlusconi says biased courts have subjected him to 109 trials costing him 200 million euros in fees since he first entered politics 15 years ago. He has never been convicted.
“If anyone knows about the need to reform the judicial system, it’s me,” he said on Saturday.