Italy’s populist government wants to reward parents who have a third child with the offer of free farmland, in a new plan aimed at reviving the country’s low birth rate.
The children-for-land incentive, inserted into Italy’s latest draft budget, aims to give parcels of state-held agricultural land for 20 years to parents who give birth to a third child between 2019 and 2021.
Families also would be eligible for zero-interest loans for up to €200,000 (£175,000) if they opt to buy their first home near their newly acquired land.
“They say that Italians have few children and that something is needed to turn the trend around,” said Gian Marco Centinaio, the agriculture minister.
“That’s why the ministry wants to contribute, favouring rural areas in particular, where people still have children,” he told the media.
Foreigners interested in the offer would need to have been resident in Italy for at least 10 years.
Left-leaning newspaper il Fatto Quotidiano described the initiative as “a little bit ‘Gone with the Wind’ while at the same time something romantically Soviet.”
It is just one of several controversial measures in the latest draft of the budget being negotiated by Italy’s government, which has vowed to push ahead with expansive plans despite warnings from the European Commission to reduce deficit spending.
The idea is being pushed ahead by the families and agriculture ministers, both members of the far-Right League party. Italy has the lowest birthrate in Europe, with some 464,000 births registered last year, a record low.
Lorenzo Fontana, the families minister, said the land offer would be limited to married couples, rather than those in civil unions. Political commentators said that would not be easy, as the law provides civil unions with most of the same rights as marriage.
The Italian state owns half a million hectares of agricultural land worth €9.9 billion, according to Coldiretti, agricultural lobby association, but critics warned it was mostly unwanted parcels that councils were keen to unload.
Commentators also questioned whether the €20 million set aside for the programme until 2020 could be better spent on addressing the rising cost of child care in Italy and helping mothers return to work.
Yesterday the phrases #terragratis (free land) and #terzofiglio (third child) began trending on social media in Italy.
— Maria Luisa Petruzzo (@MaryLuPetruzzo) October 31, 2018
— Giancarlo Dessì (@gian_d_gian) October 31, 2018
— ƆƧIꓭOЯ-in direzione ostinata e contraria-ROBISC (@robisc) October 31, 2018
— Camillo Benso Jr (@BensoCamilloJr) October 31, 2018
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
November 2nd, 2018