As part of an electoral alliance, the Socialists and the Greens in the French region of Aquitaine committed to carry out a pilot with an unconditional minimum income, as a step in the direction of a basic income. They won the elections, now it is time to deliver.
French regional elections held this month received wide coverage by the international press because of the dramatic rise of the far right party Front National. Meanwhile, an interesting development the basic income movement went largely unnoticed. In the south-western region of Aquitaine, one of thirteen mainland French regions, major strides towards a basic income have been made.
Five months ago, the Aquitaine Regional Council – the elected regional parliament – adopted a motion to conduct pilots to test the implementation of an “unconditional RSA”. The Revenu de Solidarité Active (Active Solidarity Income), or RSA, is the means-tested national minimum income. The unconditional RSA would entail scrapping the work requirement, and would make the grant less discriminatory and less bureaucratic. A recent study shows that the RSA uptake is only slightly over half of the eligible beneficiaries.
While this is not an unconditional basic income, it is a major move in that direction. The motion notes that it is a “first step towards a universal basic income” (read the French text here). At the time, the Council had a left-wing majority, headed by the Socialist Party and including the Greens. The initiator of the motion, Green councilor Martine Alcorta, suggested that the pilots should be based on a proposal drafted last March by the French Movement for Basic Income, an affiliate of BIEN.
However, the fate of the basic income pilots depended on the results of the regional elections. Basic income supporters feared that if the left-wing coalition lost the region, the whole project might have been compromised. In the second round of elections on December 13, the Greens and the Socialists merged their lists to beat the right-wing coalition led by the Republicans, and the National Front, running separately. Just a few days before, the two left-wing parties agreed to renew their commitment to unconditional RSA pilots.
This was not an easy task, as the Socialist Alain Rousset, top candidate in the electoral roll and outgoing president of the Regional Council, had been strongly opposed to the pilots. The inclusion of the unconditional RSA experiment in the program means that measures that are closer to a basic income are gaining ground among other political parties. The Greens and the young anti-austerity formation New Deal already support a universal basic income.
Now that the left alliance won the elections, they are to go ahead with the pilots. Martine Alcorta was re-elected in the Regional Council, and the Greens are entitled to two vice-presidents as part of the deal with the Socialists.
If the newly elected regional councilors put their words into actions, a feasibility study will be conducted to come up with different designs for local pilots. The French Movement for a Basic Income has already offered its services to help the Aquitaine Regional Council with the project.
French Movement for a Basic Income, “PS et EELV s’entendent sur le revenu de base en Aquitaine-Limousin-Poitou-Charentes [Socialists and Greens in Aquitaine strike a deal on basic income],” December 12, 2015.
Stanislas Jourdan, “French Regional Council of Aquitaine to assess feasibility of basic income pilots,” Basic Income News, July 9, 2015.
The first meeting of a European working group on minimum income was held on October 20, 2015 at the European Parliament. While the event was advertised at the pan-European level with the label “minimum income”, many of its participants are in favor of an unconditional basic income. The discussion developed around the synergies and differences between campaigns for a guaranteed minimum income and universal basic income advocacy.
The meeting was organized by the Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL). It was an important opportunity for in-depth discussions between Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), key experts, and various political and activist organizations like Basic Income Network Italy, BIEN’s Italian chapter.
You can listen to the audio of the event (in Italian) here.
The objectives of the first meeting were:
– to hold an initial exchange of views on the state of minimum income and basic income at the pan-European and individual member states’ level;
– to discuss the possibility of submitting a parliamentary inquiry;
– to discuss a plan of action for 2016.
Eleonora Forenza (MEP GUE/NGL); Paloma López Bermejo (MEP GUE/NGL)
Francisco Soriano (European Economic & Social Committee); Anne van Lancker (European Minimum Income Network); Fintan Farrell (European Minimum Income Network); Miguel Laparra; Izquierda Unida; Sandro Gobetti (Basic Income Network Italy); Rachel Serino (Basic Income Network Italy); Philippe Van Parijs (Université de Louvain; Chair of BIEN International Advisory Board); Gabriella Stramaccioni (Libera Contro La Mafia); Roberta Fantozzi (Rifondazione Comunista); Elena Monticelli (ACT!); Cristina Morini (writer and Journalist); Teresa Di Martino (Femministe Nove); Maria Pia Pizzolante (TILT).
The original announcement from the website of the Basic Income Network Italy is available here.
Debora Serracchiani, President of Friuli-Venezia Giulia
The center-left government of the Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia is about to roll out a minimum income experiment – the actual wording used in the legislation is “measures of active inclusion and income support”. It was approved in June by the regional parliament. The cabinet finalized the implementation guidelines at the end of September.
This is far from a universal basic income, but institutes a basic floor for all families below a certain income, regardless of family members’ current or previous occupational status. Families that earn 6000 euros per year or less, and have been residing in the region for at least twenty-four months, will receive a monthly sum between 70 and 550 euros for twelve months in the first instance. The monthly payment is determined by existing family income – there are six income bands – and the number of dependent children.
They can apply for a second period of twelve months, after a two months break. The award is conditional on signing an “inclusion pact”, which is a plan beneficiaries agree with social services to improve their financial situation. It can include training courses, further education and other labor market integration activities.
Local newspaper Il Piccolo reports that the scheme roll-out is expected to start in November this year. It is estimated that there are up to 10,000 beneficiaries eligible for this measure. Italian newspapers do not clarify whether this figure refers to the total number of individuals in the receiving families, or the number of applicants. Either way, it is clear that only the very poor will be covered.
Italy, like Greece and unlike most European countries, does not have a universal unemployment subsidy or a national guaranteed minimum income (GMI). A GMI scheme was piloted at the national level in the late 1990s, but discontinued in the early 2000s. Some of Italy’s 20 regions experimented with similar measures throughout the 2000s, but none of them went beyond the experimental phase. Friuli-Venezia Giulia center-left government had already instituted a five-year experiment in 2006, but the scheme was interrupted prematurely by a center-right government in 2008.
Friuli’s reintroduction of a minimum income is not an isolated case. Another region, Basilicata, adopted similar measures in recent months, and others, like Piedmont and Lombardy, are expected to do so in the near future.
Friuli’s law was promoted by the regional president Debora Serracchiani and her cabinet, and approved with votes from across the political spectrum. The center-left Democrats, who lead the regional coalition government, and their regional allies of Left, Ecology and Freedom, supported the measure, with the favorable vote of the opposition party 5 Star Movement – a populist formation with increasingly far right views about migration and borders.
The 5 Star Movement is the main opposition party in the national parliament, and has been campaigning for a “citizenship income” (a form of GMI) at the national level for some time now. In recent months, they have intensified their campaign. Popular support for a national GMI is growing, fuelled by increasing poverty and social discontent caused by the combined effect of austerity and lack of economic growth.
Matteo Renzi, Italy’s Prime Minister
Three legislative proposals to this effect have been deposited in the national parliament, but none of them has reached the stage of a parliamentary vote. The 5 Star Movement proposal is the most far-reaching of them and calls for a GMI of up to 780 euros per month. Matteo Renzi, Prime Minister and leader of the Democrats, has rejected this proposal, but promised to include in the next budget more modest measures to mitigate poverty.
If you want to find out more, here is a list of relevant sources:
Marco Ballico, “Sei ‘scaglioni’ per l’assegno antipovertà [Six bands for the antipoverty payment],” Il Piccolo, September 22, 2015.
Roberto Giovannini, “In Friuli sussidio per i poveri, i grillini votano con il Pd [Subsidy for the poor in Friuli, 5 Star Movement votes with Pd],” La Stampa, July 2, 2015.
Friuli-Venezia Giulia, “Legge regionale 10 luglio 2015, n.15 [Regional law July 10, 2015, n.15]”.
“Renzi: no al reddito di cittadinanza, per combattere la povertà serve il lavoro [Renzi: no to citizenship income, we need jobs to fight poverty],” September 30, 2015.
Josh Martin, “ITALY: Conflict over report of a basic income experiment in Lombardy”, Basic Income News, May 18, 2015.
For a brief history of GMI experiments in Italy, see Varvara Lalioti’s academic article “The curious case of the Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI): highlighting Greek ‘exceptionalism’ in a southern European context”, forthcoming in the European Journal of Social Policy. An earlier version is available here.
Several Italian civil society groups have rallied to a 100-day campaign which promotes the concept of a ‘dignity income’ as a way to counter mafia power.
There was a resolution at the European Parliament on 16 October 2010 which stressed the important “role of minimum income in combating poverty and promoting an inclusive society in Europe”, and recommended that all EU countries adopt a minimum income scheme. Italy is still one of the few EU countries (along with Hungary, Bulgaria and Greece) which has not yet done so.
In order to remedy this problem, a new alliance of civil society organisations started a campaign called “100 days for a dignity income” on March 13th. The campaign has a simple goal: get a minimum income passed into law within 100 days.
The leaders of the campaign argue: “It is not impossible, our proposal is not unrealistic: there are several bills pending at the Palazzo Madama (the Italian Senate building).”
The campaign is led by the 20-year-old anti-mafia organisation, Libera, later joined by several anti-poverty networks. In a press release, Libera stressed the relevance of minimum income as a key tool against the Mafia’s blackmailing of the poor’:
“The Minimum or Citizen’s Income, is also a key tool for fighting organised crime in a period of crisis and increasing poverty and social inequality. It removes oxygen from those who exploit the need to work and turn it into economic blackmail, which fuels criminal networks who then take advantage of poverty for their own businesses. A minimum income law would make people less vulnerable in the face of those who want to exploit their needs and vulnerabilities.”
A first step towards basic income in Italy
Behind the concept of “dignity income” the campaign is the idea of “a minimum income support that provides a safety net for those who cannot work or go to a job that can guarantee a decent income or do not have access to social security systems,” says the manifesto. It is therefore not exactly a basic income as we understand it.
In the context of Italian politics however, a means-tested and conditional minimum income is often considered as a necessary first step towards a universal basic income.
The Basic Income Network Italia (BIN-Italy) supports the campaign because it goes in the right direction. BIN-Italia will foster public initiatives, debates, seminars and other meetings to raise awareness both amongst public opinion and decision makers of the necessity of a guaranteed basic income nn a country where 10 million people live in relative poverty (16.6% of the total population) and more than 6 million, (9.9% of the population), in absolute poverty.
After 30 days of campaigning, 65,000 citizens have already supported the new campaign by signing a petition to the national parliament. The organisers aim is for 100,000 signatures. Two years ago, a similar citizens’ initiative received more than the necessary 50,000 signatures to be discussed at parliament, but was never given a serious hearing.
This time, as with the last campaign, many politicians and political parties have expressed their support for the campaign, including political parties Sinistra Ecologia Libertà (Left Ecology Liberty), Movimento 5 stelle (5 Stars Movement) and Rifondazione Comunista (Refounded Communist Party) and one of the main metalworkers labour unions, FIOM.
Moreover, the mayors of the cities of Udine, Cerveteri, Monterotondo have not only signed the petition but also presented a petition at their City Councils for their cities to officially promote the campaign.
However, the Minister of Labour Giuliano Poletti remains unconvinced. Just a few days after the start of the campaign he publicly opposed it, claiming that a minimum income would “cost many billions, and be unsustainable for the current national budget”.
With contribution from Emanuele Murra