Free Condoms and a Soda Tax: Populists Have Big Ideas for Italy

(Bloomberg) -- Italy’s populists, fresh off a bruising European budget battle, are turning their attention to weaning the country off a host of “unhealthy” habits -- like shopping on Sundays, guzzling sugary drinks and even getting divorced.

Ministers and lawmakers from the governing Five Star Movement-League coalition have in recent weeks rolled out a wide range of colorful proposals to shake up their countrymen’s lifestyles, though most remain far from being enacted into law.

A Less ‘Dolce Vita’

The plan: A joint Five Star-League proposal would raise levies on sugary drinks like Coca Cola to make up for some tax cuts in next year’s budget proposal. Italy would join countries including the U.K., France and Norway in trying out measures designed to both shore up finances and curb unhealthy dietary habits.

Status: The proposal has been approved by the parliament’s finance commission and now awaits examination by the budget committee.

Free Love

The plan: Free condoms for all Italians under 26, low-income citizens, asylum seekers and women who’ve recently undergone abortion. A Five Star idea, the proposal would cost an estimated 5 million euros ($5.7 million).

Status: Originally an amendment to next year’s budget law, the free-condom plan has now been withdrawn at the rightist League’s request. Young Italians should have sex "the way they want and in a safe way,” though they don’t need the state’s help to do it, League leader and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said.

Never on a Sunday

The plan: While Five Star, an anti-establishment group that’s been around less than 10 years, makes headlines by challenging social conventions, it can sometimes sound traditionalist or even nostalgic in tone. That’s never been more the case than with its plan to turn back the clocks and bring the country back to the days when shops were closed on Sundays.

Status: Five Star leader and Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio says the proposal, which he calls a bid for “civility” and improved lives for citizens, will be included in a broad package of future laws. The package hasn’t gone to parliament yet.

Breaking Up Is Hard...and Expensive

The plan: A League lawmaker is seeking changes to family legislation including additional requirements for divorcing couples who have children, with the effect of making divorce more expensive. The proposal also calls for equally shared custody and curbs on alimony. Couples seeking divorce would also be required to undergo, and pay for, family mediation.

Status: The proposal is working its way through parliament.

Military Discipline

The plan: Salvini wants to bring back compulsory military service. Italy ended the draft in 2004. The League leader, who was among the last generation to undergo conscription, said in August that the army could teach young Italians “some manners that Mom and Dad aren’t teaching you.”

Status: Despite the rhetoric, no official steps have been taken thus far.

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