Dear Mr. Berlusconi,

It has come to our attention that Italy, like the United States, is in dire financial straits.  Austerity budgets, tax increases, benefit reductions – these are the cures being tossed at this world-wide epidemic (except in the U.S., where we are extending tax cuts and increasing spending… but that’s a topic for another day).

Mr. Berlusconi, you are missing a grand opportunity for raising funds.  It is easy to do – in fact, it is already being done in the U.S., Canada and many other countries.  We can’t imagine why, in these troubled economic times, the EU has not embraced the Vanity Plate for automobiles.

What is it, you ask?  It is a personalized license plate for your vehicle.  Yours, for instance, might simply say BERLU – or perhaps PRM MIN, or maybe even LOTHRIO… anything that’s not already taken and is not obscene is up for grabs.

Here in North America we first issued license plates in 1903 (Massachusetts and Ontario).  They didn’t look anything like they do now – they were made of leather, rubber, iron and porcelain.  By 1920 the familiar embossed metal plates had arrived, and in 1956 the size of license plates was standardized.

The first personalized American plate was issued in Pennyslvania way back in 1931.  (I haven’t been able to find out what it said.)  For years and years each state had its own color scheme for license plates with raised numbers in a contrasting color – New York was orange, Vermont was green, Arizona was a sort of maroon brown.  All that changed over the years. Now there are any number of different types of plates available, depending on your State.

Mr. Berlusconi, did you know that in the U.S. and Canada there are 9.7 million vehicles with personalized plates?  3.87% of cars in America proudly carry a personalized message and each one of those plates cost money, money that went into the coffers of the issuing State!

And it’s not just the States that benefit.  Many States offer a personalized plate that supports a belief, a school, a sports team.  Here in Arizona we have a choice of 38 plates touting anything from cancer awareness, to the environment to Arizona State University.  Once you’ve chosen your type of plate, you can choose the letters and/or numbers you want on it.  Prices vary from state to state.  In Arizona it costs $25 to apply for a vanity plate, and $25 a year to keep it.  If you have chosen a plate that supports a charity, a hefty portion of the annual fee will go to the charity (here it’s typically $17 of each $25 renewal).

Think of it!  If you could sell, say, 1,000,000 plates a year in Italy, and you charged E 50 a year, that would be 50,000,000 a year.  Granted, it won’t solve Italy’s financial crisis, but it would help.

There’s another benefit Mr. Berlusconi – it’s much easier to remember a plate that spells out a word, even in an abbreviated form.  This would be helpful for all those times you have to write your plate number on a form, which seems to be about once a week in Italy.  How much simpler to remember BERLU than, say 135 MIN.  Also helpful if you need to report a hit and run to the police.

Are you thinking it might be hard to come up with a good idea for a plate?  Well, there are a lot of ways to approach it.  Some people opt for the simple name or initials plate:

Others like to come up with clever sayings to tell other motorists something about themselves – a sort of highway tweet:

Born to fight? Tanned from outside battles?

Then there are the ones that mean something to the owners, but are, perhaps, a bit mystifying to readers:

Multiple personalities, perhaps?

Proud scholar?

Note that the one above is a special plate for a veteran.  Does it mean Corporal Tom?  Or perhaps it belongs to someone who did code work?

Many is the car owner who is proud of his car and wants you to know it:

This is on a Mini Cooper S… and perhaps it combines with another favorite vanity plate, the place name.

Plates are a pretty inexpensive way to advertise, and they reach a wide audience:

Is that advertising Zinfandel?  Or something else?

The University of Arizona has a vibrant music department – could this be a proud member of the orchestra?  Or simply someone who likes good seats at concerts?

Sports themes come up a lot on the back of cars:

Other people just want you to know where they fit in the family:

Mr. Prime Minister, you could make a great public relations gesture and give the Pope the Papa 1 plate, free of charge.

I hope, you’ll consider this fund-raising suggestion, Mr. Berlusconi; surely vanity plates would be a hit in Italy. And if none of the above gives you ideas for your own plate, you can check this link to find hundreds of suggestions.

Farfalle1 (who will apply for the Farfal1 plate as soon as they’re available)