Italy's lower house of parliament gave the green light to Prime Minister Mario Monti's austerity package on Friday in a vote of confidence aimed at speeding up implementation of the urgent measures.
The plan, intended to balance the budget by 2013 in a bid to reassure skittish markets, is set to be formally approved by the lower house later Friday, before going on to a vote in the upper house next week.
The former eurocrat's crisis-busting plan, which was adopted by the cabinet on December 4, aims to reduce the deficit by around 20 billion euros ($25 billion) and includes measures worth over 10 billion euros to boost growth.
Italy "has a message to send to Europe," Monti said Friday during a conference in Rome with the heads of the European Central Bank and the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF), ahead of the vote.
The lower house voted overwhelming in favour of the package -- with the exception of the right-wing Northern League party -- former premier Silvio Berlusconi's coalition partner -- and the centre-left Italy of Values party.
The party's head -- former anti-corruption judge Antonio Di Pietro -- said the plan was "unjust" and "makes pensioners pay rather than financial lobbies."
Monti, who stepped in after Berlusconi was ousted in November, is under pressure from his European partners to reduce Italy's huge debt burden but also to kick-start growth to stave off the debt crisis sweeping the eurozone.
EU euro commissioner Olli Rehn told Italian journalists in Brussels that the measures were "convincing" but there was "lots to do still on growth and jobs."
In reforms to pensions -- which have embittered unions -- the minimum number of years that workers have to pay their contributions in order to receive a full pension will be increased from the current 40 years to 41 years and one month for women and 42 years and one month for men.
The minium pension age also rises.
A tax on first homes which had been abolished by ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi in 2008 will be reintroduced and taxes will increase on all real estate.
However contributions from lower-income households and families with children will be weighted so that they shoulder less of the burden.
The government will balance the loss by taxing pensions worth over 200,000 euros a year, and raising the tax on capital previously stashed in off-shore accounts and now regularised as part of a tax amnesty under Berlusconi's rule.
The plan also includes incentives for growth: Companies that hire women and young people will be rewarded with a reduction in their social welfare costs and small and medium-sized enterprises will be given loans.
Faced with opposition from some political parties over the draconian plan, Monti has insisted it is fair, but that Italians will have to tighten their belts to pull through an "extreme" financial emergency.
Berlusconi and his former ally Umberto Bossi, the head of the League, voiced doubts Friday over whether Monti could stay out his mandate until 2013.
The main unions held a transport strike against funding cuts, with metros, trains and buses running little or no service in cities across Italy.
A group calling itself the Armed Proletarian Movement sent letters containing bullets to Monti and Berlusconi -- intercepted by the police -- with a note reading "Reconsider the austerity plan or we'll make you pay.
Despite the rush to implement the new measures, market pressure has remained high and Rome was forced to pay record rates in a bond sale this week.
While acknowledging the need for budget discipline among EU member states, Monti called on the European Union on Friday to make sure it was enforced in a "sustainable" long-term way which would not stifle growth.
An IMF team will travel to Rome next week amid ongoing speculation that it may be called upon to use hundreds of billions of dollars along with the ECB to rescue Italy if it becomes unable to service its huge sovereign debt -- which stands at 120 percent of the gross domestic product.