No More Delays on the Payments
In a time where the political debate revolves around the issues of austerity and combating fiscal evasion, it is paradoxical to see that the state is the first to be late on its payments. Its overdue debts to industry actually amounts to about 4 percent of the country’s GDP—that is, almost 70 billion Euros.
Sadly, over the last few months, the number of cases in which entrepreneurs ended their own lives has multiplied because they saw no way to ensure the continuation of their companies. Overdue payments from the public administration are in part at the root of the problem.
This situation is unacceptable. Whatever serious policy will be adopted to exit from the crisis and revitalize Italian industries’ competitiveness must, first and foremost, put an end to these delays. I fail to see the difference between the legal (and moral) obligation of paying taxes and that of the public administration to pay its debts on time. Since the beginning of my mandate, I have fought to accelerate the actuation of a set of European norms to end this phenomenon once and for all. One year ago, the EU approved a directive on payments that specified they must be made within 30 days, or 60 days for a limited set of exceptions, or else the payments would have to be made with an 8 percent surcharge. The member states have to correctly apply this norm by the last day of March 2013 if they want to avoid incurring punitive provisions by the European Commission.
In the midst of a crisis whose first symptom is the restriction of credit, even a mere 12 months can be fatal to some small and medium-size industries. This is why last November I wrote to all 27 competent ministers to ask that the enactment of the directive be anticipated. Many states complied with the request. At the European level, paying outstanding debts means freeing up 180 billion euros in credit toward the state. With its unenviable position at the top of this disreputable list, Italy is responsible for almost half of that amount. In this period, when more than one out of three companies cannot secure the credit they are hoping for, this sum could constitute a formidable flywheel with which to restart investment and new hires, especially for the small and medium-size companies, which suffer the brunt of the problems resulting from the shortfall. I found complete agreement with this perspective during my talks with minister of Economic Development, Corrado Passera, and I’m sure that the government is exploring every possible solution, also in collaboration with the banking system.
But we need to hurry. I fully concur with the alarm raised by the Italian employers’ federation, Confindustria, during the meeting of the Senate’s committee on industry. In Italy, the loans to industry decreased by 0.1 percent, 1 percent and 2 percent during November, December and January, respectively, for a grand total of 60 billion euros in just three months. To this decrease in the availability of loans, one must also add the increased cost of loans, up 1 percent from June 2011 and nearing 4 percent at the beginning of the year. We can no longer ask our industries to navigate between Scylla and Charybdis—one being the restriction of availability and the increase in the cost of credit on the one hand, the other being a state that doesn’t pay its bills. In 2011, Italian industries had to wait 180 days to receive a payment from the public administration; in 2009, it was 128. This trend is inverted, however, in the rest of Europe. For example, in France the time decreased from 70 days to 64, and in Germany from 45 days to 30.
It’s useless to keep on trying to hide behind a leaf. These debts exist, and imperiling industries will not solve the problem with Italian accounting. Not making capital available to small and medium-size industries amounts to raising their mortality rate, forcing them to fire people or, at the very least, preventing them from growing. It would also be detrimental to Italy’s economy and would risk aggravating the recession. Without a real strategy for growth, Italy will not restart. The Monti government took the right first steps with structural reforms that increase industry’s competitiveness. Now, we must quickly solve the problem of access to capital.