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They come at a time when Italy needs more residents to maintain its economic viability. The changes unite the seemingly unrelated issues of the Italian birth rate, immigration, and education in a mix of solutions that may prove strangely workable. Topping this list of changes is a faster track to citizenship for the children of immigrants. For children born in Italy to foreign parents, attending primary or secondary Italian schools and learning Italian would allow them to acquire citizenship as children.
Dr. Flavia Bruno, a psychoanalyst living in Milan and the mother of a 15-year-old daughter agrees with the initiative. She says,
“Immigrants speaking Italian are able to become integrated citizen(s). Kids deprived of the opportunity to learn the language of the hosting country will probably become adults ‘forced’ into a marginalized life.”
This represents a significant change from the current cumbersome application process, which cannot begin until they are 18. Dr. Emanuela Di Re, a gynecologist from Milan concurs with Bruno. Discussing the idea of teaching Italian to immigrant school children, she says, “It is a good idea.”
“Children, contrary to adults who require much longer, can absorb the culture of the host country…in a very short period of time,” says Matilde Bagnoli, the CEO of a small company that manages a tourist resort in Italy. Not only does it pave the way to citizenship, speaking Italian is seen as a way to foster a sense of belonging and create greater integration into Italian society. Bagnoli believes in this philosophy.
"If made citizens, they will integrate and feel respected and less inclined to feel marginalized and behave as such.”
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Another change involves the issue of boosting the Italian birth rate. At a time when Italy is experiencing one of the lowest birth rates among the European nations, Renzi is looking at ways to increase it. Although southern Italy fares far worse in comparison to birth rates in central and northern regions of the country where the economy is better, the entire country is facing a bleak population future.
With more than one-fifth of its population over 65, Italy currently has the highest percentage of people living on pensions of any European country. The aging population combined with the declining birth rate could spell economic disaster if nothing is done to increase the birth rate.
Di Re says, “No, I don’t think so,” in responding to whether offering extra money to parents of newborns is a good idea. Taking a different position, Barbara Zucchi Frua suggests that offering extra money may help somewhat, but says, “I don’t think it is enough.”
Last year, two Italian schools received media coverage when the parents of Italian students removed them from the schools because of the high number of foreign students in classrooms. Increasing the teaching of Italian in schools would cost money. It would mean hiring additional teachers and increasing educational costs for taxpayers. Earlier this year, Italy’s cabinet agreed to reduce taxes for 2015 by increasing the country’s borrowing from other nations.
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Nor is the idea of a “baby bonus” embraced by many in the Italian population. Davide Baroni from Tortoreto Lido in central Italy feels “it is not clear how this aid will work. Right now, (it) sounds like a political slogan.” The cost of sending monthly allowances for three years to new parents with lower incomes becomes an additional short-term economic burden. Di Re, in discussing Italy’s problems says, “…we are suffering a world-wide ‘failure’ situation at its highest levels, very high tax-pressure…”