World News

Italy's center-right leaders sign policy pact ahead of election

ROME (Reuters) - Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and his rightist allies agreed on Thursday to a joint manifesto ahead of a March 4 national election, committing themselves to cutting taxes and rolling back pension reform.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

“United we win,” Berlusconi wrote on Twitter, announcing that he had signed the electoral program along with Matteo Salvini, head of the anti-immigrant Northern League, and Giorgia Meloni, leader of the nationalist Brothers of Italy party.

Opinion polls suggest their alliance will win the most seats but will fall short of an outright majority, making it hard to predict what sort of coalition government might finally emerge from the ballot.

The center-right bloc did not immediately release the final version of their electoral pact, but officials had previously said it would include a pledge to reverse 2011 legislation which called for staggered increases in the retirement age.

The three leaders have also said they would promise to introduce a single flat tax. The League has called for the tax rate to be set at 15 percent, while Berlusconi has said it should be somewhere between 20-25 percent.

The current top tax rate stands at 43 percent.

Center-right leaders have given little indication of how they will make up the shortfall in revenues, suggesting only that they will step up the fight against tax evasion and predicting that the new tax regime would stimulate the economy.

The final manifesto is unlikely to commit to a specific tax rate, officials said.

Indeed, much of the program is expected to be made up of general pledges, rather than nitty-gritty policy proposals, enabling them to paper over differences between their individual policy platforms, which will be published separately.

Other joint election promises are expected to include a crackdown on illegal immigration and a change to national law which would give the Italian constitution precedence over any legislation approved by the European Parliament - a move that could put Italy on a collision course with Brussels.

One thing the center-right bloc has yet to agree on is who will be the prime minister should they sweep the center-left government from power.

Berlusconi said earlier on Thursday that he was ready to lead Italy again if the European Court of Human Rights scrapped a ban on him holding public office. However, such a ruling is unlikely before the March election.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer; editing by Grant McCool