Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta on Wednesday won a parliamentary confidence vote triggered by the fall of Silvio Berlusconi, promising to push through a pro-European reform agenda and fight populism.
Letta vowed to bring political stability and economic growth to a country on the point of exiting its longest post-war recession, condemning “chaos” after anti-austerity protests this week across Italy.
“We will not allow Italy to sink again,” Letta told lawmakers, promising to “fight with everything I have to avoid our country being thrown back into chaos just as it is beginning to lift itself up again.”
“Today we are drawing a clear line. On this side are those who love Europe ... knowing that without the European Union we would plunge into the Middle Ages,” he said.
“On that side are those who want to block Europe,” he said in a thinly-veiled reference to Berlusconi and the anti-establishment firebrand politician Beppe Grillo.
Letta won the vote in Italy’s lower house handily with 379 in favor and 212 against. He then won the vote more narrowly in the upper house, obtaining 173 votes, or 22 more than required for an absolute majority.
Letta admitted that instability had “weakened” his government, but voiced hope that the confidence vote would give his coalition a stronger mandate to govern and press ahead with much-needed reforms.
He said he would impose further cuts on Italy’s overweight bureaucratic machine and aim for GDP growth of 1 percent next year and 2 percent the year after, while also slashing debt.
“Italy will shake off the image of an unstable, Baroque country that can never decide anything,” said the prime minister, who came to power in April following a two-month stalemate after an inconclusive general election.
Letta also promised to reduce the number of parliamentarians and end public subsidies to political parties — both reforms that have long been mooted in Italy, including by Letta, but never carried out.
The vote was called after the scandal-tainted Berlusconi party quit the ruling coalition and he was ejected from Italy’s parliament over a tax fraud conviction.
Berlusconi’s departure would have brought down the government, but a group of the playboy politician’s former proteges broke away and stayed in the cabinet.
In a sign of the social tensions in Italy, there have been sometimes violent rallies led by an anti-austerity movement known as the “Forconi” (Pitchforks) who held a small protest in Rome on Wednesday.
Members of the Fiom metalworkers’ union also took to the streets of the Italian capital to demand more help from the government to save jobs.
Letta’s Cabinet won some breathing space this week with the long-awaited news that the economy has stopped contracting and an end to recession was imminent.
However, unemployment and poverty are still rampant.
The vote comes after the election on Sunday last week of the 38-year-old mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, to the leadership of the Democratic Party, the main center-left party, in a major shift in Italian politics.
The ambitious Renzi, who is already being seen as a possible future prime minister, has had his differences with Letta, but has promised to work together with him.
Referring to Berlusconi’s departure, Letta said: “Our majority will be smaller in numbers, but more cohesive.”
Despite a “radical” political transformation this year, the prime minister said Italy’s coalition was now “more united.”