• Letta confident of eating 2014 Xmas cake as premier

Letta confident of eating 2014 Xmas cake as premier

But PD leader Renzi hints won't compromise on reform drive

(By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, December 17 - Premier Enrico Letta said Tuesday that he was confident his left-right coalition government will still be in office this time next year. "Even though many outside (the government) didn't believe it, (this year) we have eaten panettone (Christmas cake) and we'll keep working well and count on being able to eat it next year too," said Letta. Letta's government was sworn in in April after a long deadlock followed February's inconclusive general election. Based on an unnatural alliance between Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's now defunct centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party, it veered from one crisis to another for much of the year. Berlusconi's party, which he has revamped under its former name Forza Italia, pulled its support for the government last month after the PD supported the drive to have the media magnate ejected from parliament following the supreme court's decision to uphold a tax-fraud conviction against him. Letta has said his government is now in a stronger position, even though it has a smaller majority in parliament. The executive survived with the support of the New Centre Right (NCD) party, a group of pro-government moderates led by Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, who split from Berlusconi loyalists. President Giorgio Napolitano also made an appeal for stability on Tuesday and called for an acceleration of reforms to cut the cost of Italy's political machinery and make the country easier to govern. The government plans to introduce a new election law, after the previous system was declared illegitimate by the Constitutional Court, reduce the number of parliamentarians and curtail the Senate's law-making powers to make it easier to get legislation through parliament, among other reforms. "Few now doubt that, in strict compliance with the principles enshrined in the Constitution, we must put an end to the endemic weakness that in the past has characterized the fate of too many governments," Napolitano said in remarks to the diplomatic corps Tuesday. On Monday the head of State had warned that, unless Italy's political class manages to deliver reform and provide better government, struggling citizens may get involved in "violent protests". Unemployment has reached record levels of over 12%, with more than four in 10 under-25s out of work, as the country struggles to emerge from its longest post-war recession, which was made deeper by EU-austerity measures adopted to avert a Greek-style financial meltdown. Protesters from disparate groups are set to hold a big protest in Rome on Wednesday in the culmination of over a week of demonstrations nationwide by the so-called Pitchfork Movement that have caused disruption and in some cases degenerated into violence. The PD's young new head, Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, said Tuesday the party would be pressing hard for progress on reforms under him. But Renzi, a 38-year-old who wants to rejuvenate Italian politics and has been compared to the young Tony Blair, also hinted he was not afraid of causing problems for the government, by going against the wishes of the NCD, to achieve this. "We are ready to discuss a (policy) pact between government allies like the one they have in Germany," Renzi said via his Twitter account, @matteorenzi. "Obviously you do institutional reforms with everyone who wants to take part and if someone turns back, the issue does not arise". Renzi is expected to lead the centre left at Italy's next elections, although he said Sunday he will not try to sink the government and cause a new vote so he can take over from Letta at the helm of government.