(By Emily Backus) Rome, June 18 - The Italian antitrust authority chief on Tuesday said it was making headway in its fight to ensure competition but called on lawmakers to up the ante if it wants the economy to grow. Speaking to parliament, Giovanni Pitruzzella said the watchdog had ordered more than 182 million euros' worth of fines over 17 months covering 2012 and the first months of 2013. A total of 170 million euros stemmed from 31 cases of unfair competition practices, he said in his annual report presentation. A total of 159 consumer protection cases generated 12.5 million euros in fines, he added. Pitruzella also warned that growth will not return to Italy without structural reform to increase competition. "Returning to growth requires structural reforms that increase the country's competitiveness. Policy for competition constitutes one of the most important issues," said Pitruzzella. "Competition policy is not topical but central," Pitruzzella continued, explaining that promoting competitiveness and economic growth indirectly tackles excessive socioeconomic inequalities "that have characterized Western society in the last decade". Pitruzzella cited economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, saying that "non-competitive markets, or worse still, situations of monopoly create income conditions favouring restricted economic and social groups". Pitruzzella also called for harmonizing the liberalization of markets among all European Union countries. "The existence of non-homogeneous levels of liberalisation in the various States" of the EU represents "an obstacle on the path of reciprocity and the full affirmation of a single market. "We must insist on Italian political institutions to demand the same zeal for guaranteeing the openness of markets that Italy is demonstrating". At the same time, Pitruzzella singled out Italian sectors in dire need of competitive intervention, such as the automotive-insurance and banking sectors. Pitruzzella warned that banking "constitutes a priority" for better consumer protection. The antitrust chief said, "Information asymmetry is high, and there is - also because of the particular economic environment that the country is going through - a sort of 'subjugation' of consumers with respect to professionals". Pitruzzella tagged automotive insurance as another target for better consumer protection. "The average (auto-insurance) premium is more than twice that paid in France and Portugal, and exceeds German (premiums) by 80% and Dutch premiums by almost 70%," Pitruzzella said. The antitrust chief also called for overhauling Italy's "geriatric" transport authority for cargo and passenger rail. Pitruzzella said the electricity sector was in peril of deep, damaging change. Electricity "is seeing profound changes loaded with pitfalls," said Pitruzzella. Declining consumption and the spread of renewable energy were creating conditions in which conventional thermal-power plants were unable to cover their costs. Thus the market was veering toward consolidation and "probable" energy-price increases, Pitruzzella explained. The antitrust chief also urged parliament to make Italy a hub for Mediterranean gas, which requires creating "structural excess supply" within national borders and making "new, limited investments". The antitrust annual report recommends facilitating the creation of liquified natural gas (LNG) plants, for which "the complexity of administrative procedures have weighed negatively," Pitruzzella warned. He also endorsed regulated development of the Internet. "The Internet is certainly a great opportunity for development that we can not afford to miss," he said. He added, however, that "freedom does not mean anarchy and absence of rules". Pitruzzella called specifically for "the protection of the rights of publishers who produce content...used free of charge" by actors he described as "over-the-top". Pitruzzella said it was necessary to "regulate the economic relations between the actors involved".