Italian Government Won't Back Down on Cultural Spending Cuts

Some 250,000 workers went on 24-hour strike to protest the policies.

WINTER PARK, Florida -- The Italian government gave no indication Tuesday that it may change plans to reduce government spending on culture and the arts, a day after some 250,000 workers went on a 24-hour strike to protest the policies.

Minister of Culture Sandro Bondi said Tuesday he understood the reason the workers walked off the job -- temporarily closing hundreds of cinemas, theaters, opera houses, and concert calls -- but he said the government was unlikely to make significant changes to the proposed austerity budget that will slice nearly €150 million ($210 million) from the FUS fund for cultural spending, a 37% drop compared to this year, from performing arts subsidies.

Also on hold are the 20% production tax credits introduced less than a year ago.

With the cuts, the FUS is now worth €288 million ($403 million), a historical low and far less that similar funds in Germany and France.

Last month, angry protesters interrupted the opening day of the International Rome Film Festival show their opposition to the proposed cuts, and industry players have warned that the policies are already having an impact on many productions previously scheduled for 2011.

The austerity budget has been mandated by calls from the European Union for Italy to reduce the government deficit, which now totals 120% of the country's gross domestic product, the highest level in the 27-nation bloc.

The government is pushing through a budget that slashes spending across the board, and it is trying to do so quickly. Normally, the budget much be passed by Dec. 31, but this year the vote is scheduled three weeks earlier, on Dec. 10, in order to set the stage for a Dec. 14 confidence vote on the future of the government of Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi will have to resign if he loses that vote.

But Bondi, the culture minister, could lose his job even before then. He is scheduled to face his own confidence vote Nov. 29, and if he fails to achieve a majority of support in parliament he will have to step down. The vote was scheduled after a wall collapsed in the ancient archeological site of Pompeii, something critics blamed on previous cuts in cultural spending.

The Italian media reported that the 20% production tax credit might yet be reinserted into the budget during the final days of debate before the Dec. 10 vote.

Additionally, it is possible that if the Berlusconi indeed falls as a result of the Dec. 14 confidence vote that more money could be added to the FUS in a supplementary budget that could be passed in early 2011 by a new government.