Mon, Feb 24, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Italy’s Renzi vows a stable new era

AP, ROME

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, second left, rings a bell at the start of a Council of Ministers meeting chaired for the first time by Renzi in Rome on Saturday.

Photo: EPA

Matteo Renzi became Italy’s youngest prime minister on Saturday, promising a new era of stable government after using old-school politicking to engineer the ouster of a fellow Democrat he deemed too timid to get the nation back to work.

The unabashedly ambitious Renzi, 39, quit his post as Florence mayor to take up his first national government job, insisting that Italy’s political leadership needed to be bolder.

He tweeted before being sworn in that it will be “tough,” but “we’ll do it.”

The Italian economy is only just beginning to show signs of rebounding after several years of stagnation. Youth unemployment hovers at about 40 percent.

New Italian Minister of the Environment Gian Luca Galletti told Sky TG24 TV the down-to-business, bluntly talking prime minister conducted his first Cabinet meeting “more like a board meeting.”

Renzi has alienated some factions in his own party, because of the steely determination he used to dispatch former Italian prime minister Enrico Letta only days after publicly saying he would only seek the job through general elections.

The usually easygoing Letta gave Renzi a chilly, limp handshake during a brief handover ceremony on Saturday. Renzi forced a wan smile. Neither Democrat looked each other in the eyes.

That chilliness contrasts with the cordial relationship Renzi has been cultivating with the Democrats’ archrival, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the country’s main conservative leader.

Shortly before he pushed Letta aside, Renzi cut a deal with Berlusconi to work together on electoral reform to reduce the influence of tiny parties on the government. Both men see an overhaul of election rules as potentially positioning their rival forces for a more convincing victory at the ballot box.

While a tax fraud conviction keeps Berlusconi out of public office, the media mogul made clear on Saturday that he disagrees with Renzi’s plans for elections as far off as 2018.

“You have democracy and a government of the people when the government is elected by the citizens,” Berlusconi said.

When Berlusconi agreed to the reform deal, Renzi had been pushing for elections immediately after the new rules were in place.

Letta had had a slim majority in the Senate, but Renzi might need defectors from the opposition if some of his own Democrats rebel against his heavyhanded leadership.

Pippo Civati, one of the Democrats soundly defeated by Renzi in the party primary in December last year, questioned whether the new prime minister deserved support in parliament. On his Web site, Civati asked rank-and-file Democrats to have their say, “because it’s usually the voters who choose” the prime minister.

Renzi’s government also depends on smaller parties ranging from center-right to center-left that were part of Letta’s oft-bickering 10-month-old coalition.

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