by Marzia De Giuli
ROME, Sept. 4 (Xinhua) -- As the European Union stands at a crossroads for its future, negative economic indicators have continued pressing crisis-hit Italy.
National statistics institute Istat said the number of employed people aged below 35 has fallen by almost 20 percent over the last five years, while large companies have continued slashing the payroll.
According to consumer association Codacons, families returning from vacations now face rising prices in almost every sector, especially food.
"The reopening of businesses was accompanied by a general increase in prices, with an average of five percent on consumer products, and a maximum of 10 percent for goods linked to the price of fuels," the association's president Carlo Rienzi said in a statement.
Such increases, which amount to an average annual hike of 550 euros (692 U.S. dollars) per family on food spending alone, will result in lower consumption, even on traditional Christmas spending, Rienzi added.
The car market also suffers. Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Italy's iconic carmaker Fiat, said sales in August was estimated to slump 20 percent.
"I have never seen such a low number in my life," local media quoted him Marchionne as saying.
In August, Fiat temporarily laid off workers at the Pomigliano plant in southern Italy because of weak market demand. It plans to halt production again later in September.
Local analysts urged the technocratic government led by Prime Minister Mario Monti to speed up with the announced plan for growth to stimulate the economy, which suffered from the volatile financial markets and has fallen for four consecutive quarters.
"In terms of productivity, we have thrown away 10 years' time," said Istat President Enrico Giovannini in an interview with La Stampa newspaper. In his view, Italy has missed the "informatics revolution" and has not been able to carry out the necessary liberalizations.
As a result, he said, Italy's productivity has fallen to the bottom of EU countries despite its record-high number of small- and medium-sized manufacturing companies, some 500,000.
According to Istat, Italy's labor productivity slightly rose by 1.4 percent compared to an average of 11.4 percent in the 27-nation EU between 2001 and 2010. At the same period, gross domestic product in Italy grew by 4.1 percent compared to an average rise of 14 percent in the EU.
Since Monti took office last November, his emergency cabinet of technocrats has strived to cut the deficit and lower borrowing costs through a harsh austerity policy.
"But this cannot be the only objective," as creating employment and reducing the record-high fiscal burden are fundamental moves to help companies recover, said Jacopo Morelli, vice president of leading industrial association Confindustria.
Dozens of protests have caused a mounting social tension in the Mediterranean country over the past weeks.
Workers demand the government relax the tough austerity measures by lowering the value-added (VAT) and fuel taxes.
In a meeting with major local business associations slated for Wednesday, Monti is expected to contend with demands of industrialists, cooperatives, banks and labor unions.
Meanwhile, with crucial EU meetings scheduled in the next two weeks, the international agenda is also tight for Monti, who will meet French President Francois Hollande in Rome on Tuesday, and President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy at a forum in northern Italy on Saturday.