Renzi gets Civic Choice defectors

'We have the numbers' says PD chief

(ANSA) - Rome, February 6 - Premier and Democratic Party (PD) leader Matteo Renzi on Friday said he "had the numbers" to pass flagship institutional reforms without the support of the centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, who pulled his backing after the PD chief imposed Sergio Mattarella as Italian president, deepening a rift in FI.
    "We have the numbers even without (FI), but I hope that reason prevails (in Berlusconi's party)," he said.
    "If Forza Italia wants to eat its words" on an institutional reform deal called the Nazareno Pact, "buon appetito", quipped the premier.
    The PD will still respect Berlusconi and FI even if they confirm they are pulling out of the Nazareno Pact, Renzi went on. "We don't aim to speak ill of our opponents, but to work well for Italy," he said.
    Renzi got a fillip in his search for votes Friday as eight Senators and MPs with the centrist Civic Choice (SC) said they would sit with the PD caucus and some would even join the premier's party.
    The eight said in a statement: "We welcome the invitation of Renzi to follow a common path".
    The migrants from Civic Choice include Gianluca Susta, party leader in the Senate, Stefania Giannini, who is education minister, Alessandro Maran, Linda Lanzillotta, well-known labour-law reform expert Pietro Ichino, Ilaria Borletti Buitoni, Irene Tinagli, and Carlo Calenda.
    "The project of (former premier Mario) Monti is exhausted," said Giannini.
    Monti set Civic Choice up in a surprise bid for office in the 2013 general election after serving for 14 months as a technocrat premier who imposed austerity to bring Italy back from the brink of a Greek-style crisis.
    The split between Renzi and Berlusconi over the imposition of Mattarella - a former critic of the ex-premier and media magnate's conflicts of interest - has raised questions about the future of the so-called Nazareno Pact.
    The leaders of the two parties had reached that deal one year ago on pushing through Parliament much-needed election reforms and the abolition of the Senate as a lawmaking body.
    Renzi has said that he believes that he has enough support to pass his reforms to Italy's widely condemned election laws as well as the institutional reforms - which require a two-thirds majority if they are to avoid going to a referendum - with or without the FI.
    But the addition of the Civic Choice MPs and Senators will give Renzi some extra cushioning during the votes.
    Meanwhile the trouble in FI sparked by Mattarella, who once resigned as minister rather than back a law consolidating Berlusconi's TV empire, deepened Friday with leading dissident Raffaele Fitto announcing he would call his own "convention" on the future of the party.
    While arguing that he is a "rebuilder", not a "breaker" of FI, he said that the gathering on February 21 "will be the occasion when we will begin to show our proposals for Italy as well as for Forza Italia, and for the centre right". Earlier in the week, Fitto denounced Berlusconi's leadership and said the party was heading in the wrong direction.
    Like a sizeable minority in the party over which Berlusconi had long reigned supreme, Fitto claimed Berlusconi had been tricked by Renzi in the election of Constitutional Court judge Mattarella as Italy's 12th president, replacing Giorgio Napolitano who quit last month.
    Berlusconi himself appeared to be shocked that an agreed candidate for president was not part of the Nazareno Pact, even though Renzi had publicly stated on several occasions that it only covered electoral and Constitutional reforms.