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Cuts pave way for Eurotax route to Brussels

TES correspondents look back at the controversies and turbulent events of the past 12 months. ITALY

Italy took a left turn in 1996. For the first time in the history of the republic, a left-of-centre government came into power and appointed an ex-Communist as education minister.

But the wind is blowing from another direction - Brussels. Missing the boat to Europe has become the number one concern of Romano Prodi's hybrid government.

It comprises an ex-governor of the Bank of Italy and the Treasury minister from Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right government as well as a bevy of former Communists.

Finding no better way to pay the entrance fee to Maastricht, Prodi has levied a Eurotax which will knock the average family back somewhere in the region of Pounds 100-Pounds 200; a one-off tax which he has promised will be paid back in two years. However, nobody believes it will.

But a correction is in order. The government has found one area of public spending that is ripe for cuts: education.

For the man who six months ago promised that education was his top priority because "no country could afford to be rich and ignorant for too long", this is a bit of a let-down.

The same Eurobudget now working its painstaking way through parliament calls for a rationalisation of resources which would lead to the disappearance of 10,000 classes and the loss of 20,000 teaching posts. This would save about Pounds 500 million.

Most supply work is now done by teachers filling in for absent colleagues.

For longer absences, schools can call in supply teachers from outside. But they do not have the money to pay for them.

Some schools, failing to receive funding from the ministry, have had to sack staff. Other supply teachers, paid directly by the provveditorato (local authority), are still waiting for last year's money.

Meanwhile, teachers with the security of a permanent post are looking distinctly older.

This is not just because their posts are not as permanent as they used to be; in the small print of last year's disputed contract, the concept of tenure was replaced by an open-ended contract - so permanent teachers can now be made redundant, at least in theory.

They are also ageing. An end to early retirement, coupled with the last recruiting exam being held six years ago, means that the younger generation is being lost to teaching.

Anyone graduating over the past few years and hoping to get into teaching has had to think again.

In the past, concorsi were held every two or three years, but minister Luigi Berlinguer says he doesn't know when the next one will be held.

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