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Berlusconi campaigns against high taxes in Italy

Three-time premier on media blitz to reclaim premiership

12 February, 16:10
Berlusconi campaigns against high taxes in Italy (ANSA) - Rome, February 12 - Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday pledged to reduce the tax burden in Italy in a bid to lead the centre right to victory in general elections on February 24 and 25.

"Everyone knows we think it is possible and necessary to reduce public spending in order to reduce fiscal pressure," the three-time premier told a forum organized by ANSA. "Our aim is to reduce tax pressure by one percentage point a year and public spending by two," with a possible savings of 16 billion euros a year, he said.

Berlusconi added that his coalition intends to introduce just two income-tax brackets instead of the present five in the event of election victory as part of efforts to shift the tax burden "from people to things".

The centre right also plans to scrap the regional business tax IRAP entirely over four years, he said.

A series of tax promises and a recent media blitz by Berlusconi has allowed his centre-right coalition to narrow the gap with the centre-left coalition led by Democratic Party (PD) Secretary Pier Luigi Bersani, still the frontrunner as of last Friday when the last opinion polls to be published before the elections were released.

On Tuesday he continued his campaign assault on taxes, arguing that high rates in Italy were literally killing people as they were causing members of the business community to commit suicide.

"Some entrepreneurs have taken their lives because they could not find the money to pay the taxes," Berlusconi told ANSA. Outgoing Premier Mario Monti's emergency technocrat government introduced a series of tax hikes as part of austerity measures to steer Italy out of its debt crisis.

Monti is standing for office on a reform platform backed by centrist parties.

With just over 13% of projected votes, Monti's coalition has said it will support any party, right or left, if it upholds the reform policies his government has implemented since replacing Berlusconi at the peak of the euro crisis near the end of 2011. United States Ambassador to Italy David Thorne told Italian media Monday that a center-left government would be desirable in Italy, a prospect which Berlusconi dismissed Thursday. "I have never taken ambassadors' opinions 100% seriously" because it was the US government's view that counted, he said, citing "extremely close" ties to presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

He also shot down claims that he lacks credibility among European leaders.

It is "the thing that makes me most angry, that appears furthest from reality," he told ANSA.

"Instead I am very credible within the European Union". The three-time premier drew criticism from the European establishment particularly in the final stages of his last term in office as Italy's debt crisis threatened to spiral out of control, and he was replaced by Monti, a respected economist and former EU commissioner for competition.

There is also footage of him in which he appears to be shunned by fellow participants at international summits.

According to an average of polls, Berlusconi's center-right coalition is roughly 3.5% behind the center left.