Commerce sector liberalised

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In January 1998, the Italian Government passed a legislative decree on the reorganisation of the commerce sector. This first step towards a more "European" model of commerce has been opposed by employers but welcomed by trade unions.

On 16 January 1998, the Italian Government passed a legislative decree that greatly modifies the structure of the country's commerce sector. The main innovative elements are:

  • administrative simplification through the repeal of more than 20 laws and regulations, and the definition of a regulatory framework with authority for regulation delegated to the regions;
  • abolition of the "register of tradespeople" (Registro Esercenti del Commercio) and the reduction of the administrative "tables of marketable goods" from 14 to two (food and non-food);
  • more freedom on shop opening hours;
  • new rules for the protection of the consumers and the reduction of distance selling;
  • abolition of the requirement for licences (the permission given by local authorities to open a business) for shops with a surface area of under 300 square metres; and
  • a suspension of the opening of new hypermarkets for a year.

This measure will be examined and then approved by Parliament before 31 March 1998. According to the Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, this reform has "enabled Italy to become part of European commerce" (quoted in Il Sole 24 ore on 17 January 1998).

Confcommercio and Confesercenti, the two commerce employers' associations, are against this legislative decree and have said that they will do everything in their power to have it modified. The president of Confcommercio, Sergio Billè, has announced that he will protest by making a bus tour around Italy to publicise the proposed changes. The organisations strongly disagree in particular with the abolition of licences for shops with a surface area of under 300 square metres: this threshold is the same as that in France, but smaller than that in Spain (500 square meters) and Germany (800 square metres).

The Government has declared its intention to conclude the reform in line with the planned schedule and its unwillingness to make changes. The only exception is the possible creation of a special fund for the distribution of subsidies to the small shopkeepers which will have inevitably to close down because of the reform.

The three main trade union confederations -Cgil, Cisl and Uil- are on the whole satisfied with the reform. "The commerce sector needed to be modernized and the Government has done a good job using the flexibility lever", stated the secretary general of Cgil, Sergio Cofferati (quoted in Il Sole 24 Ore on 21 January 1998).

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