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It is just over two years since Romano Prodi's centre-left coalition came to power on the ruins of Italy's postwar political system. By joining Emu in the first wave it has achieved one of its main goals. But will it have the strength to liberalise the country's deeply conservative corporate order?

Via po is a broad, cobbled thoroughfare a few hundred yards from Rome’s ancient city walls. It is known for its luxury shops and smart offices. Yet, in among the boutiques, embassies and jewellers, there is a plumbers’ merchant, a tacky giftwear emporium and a basement pasta factory. Left to the mercy of market forces, shops like the one selling pipe joints and rubber washers would have gone long ago.

But one Friday in January, without warning, the Italian cabinet proposed a new law which struck at the foundations of the bureaucratic structure which has safeguarded Italy’s family shops for…

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