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Reuters/Paul Hanna
It’s always a ride through history.

Italians pay for 80 years of war and disaster every time they fill their tanks

By Annalisa Merelli

What makes gas so expensive in some countries?

In Italy, fuel prices are always through the roof, no matter what the state of the world market. In fact, in December, despite falling industrial petrol prices (€0.46 per liter in Italy), filling up cost Italians €1.45 per liter ($5.8 per gallon).

There are two reasons for this discrepancy. One is Italy’s 22% value-added tax (VAT). But the real culprit is another, archaic kind of tax called “accisa.” So many accisa taxes have been added to the price of fuel over the years that the total cumulative accisa now accounts for over half the consumer’s price for fuel (Italian).

The accisa exists to fund emergency government action, and consists of a tiny, flat addition (not a percentage) to the price of fuel and certain other products. The first accisa was added in 1935, when citizens of the Kingdom of Italy were asked to pay an extra 1.90 lire per liter of fuel (adjusted for inflation, today’s equivalent would be a steep €1.7). The money went to finance then-leader Benito Mussolini’s war in Ethiopia.

As the tax was never lifted, Italians are still paying for that war today.

They’re also still paying for the next accisa, levied in 1956 (Italy was, by then, a democracy): 14 lire per liter to raise funds to face the Suez crisis. As they’re still paying for the accisa imposed seven years later in 1963, when Italy added 10 more lire to finance reconstruction after the devastating Vajont dam collapse in northern Italy.

And so on, and so forth (Italian), to the latest accisa: €0.02 for reconstruction after a 2012 earthquake in the Emilia region. Looking at the list of incremental additions is like leafing through some of the darkest pages of Italy’s history, one disaster after the other:

Year Amount Reason
1935 1.9 lire War in Ethiopia
1956 14 lire Suez Canal
1963 10 lire Vajont dam collapse
1966 10 lire Floods in Florence
1968 10 lire Earthquake in Belice
1976 99 lire Earthquake in Friuli
1980 75 lire Earthquake in Irpinia
1983 205 lire War in Lebanon
1996 22 lire Mission in Bosnia
2004 0,02 euro New contract for public railways workers
2005 0.005 euro Purchase of ecologic buses
2009 0.0051 euro Earthquake in L’Aquila
2011 0.0071 to 0.0055 euro Financing culture
2011 0.04 euro Migrant crisis
2011 0.0089 euro Floods in Liguria and Tuscany
2011 0.082 euro Austerity measures
2012 0.02 euro Earthquake in Emilia

Theoretically, each of these increments should have expired sooner or later, but they’re all still added to the final bill. As they fill their tanks today, Italians may struggle to forget the nation’s years of fascism, railway worker strikes, and many of the worst natural calamities to befall the country over the past century.