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Letta traces govt 'road map' with Napolitano

Confidence vote 'possible' next week, pair agree

02 December, 20:23
Letta traces govt 'road map' with Napolitano (By Denis Greenan).

(ANSA) - Rome, December 2 - Premier Enrico Letta met President Giorgio Napolitano Monday night to trace the road map for a government whose balance of power has changed after the exit of Silvio Berlusconi following a split in the former premier's party.

The two agreed that a confidence vote in the smaller but more cohesive coalition, which has said it will frame a new reform agenda, could take place as early as next week, a statement from the presidential palace said.

"It was agreed that swift parliamentary approval is opportune to enable the direction and content of the government's activity to be mapped out, marking the change between the old and the new majority," it said. Napolitano cobbled together an unnatural alliance between Letta's Democratic Party (PD) and Berlusconi's then People of Freedom (PdL) party to end a two-month post-election stalemate in April.

But policy-making was hampered by constant sniping from Berlusconi hawks who eventually followed the three-time premier and media magnate into his newly revived Forza Italia (FI) party when pro-government doves led by Deputy Premier Angelino Alfano chose stability over saving their then leader from a Senate ouster after a tax-fraud conviction.

The government's majority has been cut to about a dozen votes in the Senate but Letta argues it is in fact much stronger now Alfano has formed his breakaway New Centre Right (NCD) party, which has promised to help push through much-needed economic and political reforms amid record unemployment and public disaffection with politics in Italy's longest recession for two decades.

Going into the meeting with Napolitano, which is expected to set a date for a new confidence vote formally empowering the new PD-NCD alliance, Letta reaffirmed his confidence that the new government will implement key structural reforms and frame a new electoral law to replace the one widely blamed for February's inconclusive result. "We will give concrete answers to citizens," the premier said after a meeting in Rome with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Letta has suggested that the confidence vote be held after PD primaries on December 8 when popular and charismatic Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi is expected to be elected the new leader of the centre-left party, replacing caretaker Guglielmo Epifani.

Italian media say Napolitano is likely to go along with Letta's wishes, since the political picture will be clearer once the PD has a new and fully empowered head.

Renzi has already hinted he may bring down the government unless it hurries up with reforms, especially in introducing a new electoral law, cutting red tape to help lift businesses out of the recession, and lowering taxes on the millions of Italians struggling to cope or dropping into poverty.

Alfano warned Monday that the NCD, while aware of its junior role in government, would not stand for threats to bring the exexcutive down and was not scared of returning to the polls where it will stand with FI.

Polls suggest the two new parts of the old PdL will reap more combined support than the former party did alone.

They predict another virtual three-way tie between a PD-led coalition, an FI-led one and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement of former comedian Beppe Grillo.

This would lead to gridlock in the Senate, polls say.

A key reform supported by the PD and the NCD, as well as other parties, is to do away with the Senate so the coalition that wins the Lower House rules.

But reform of the widely reviled electoral law - set to be assessed by the Constitutional Court - is bogged down in parliament.

Meanwhile the 2014 budget, crucial to helping the economy while keeping to EU-mandated deficit limits, is going through parliament amid disagreements between the government parties, although not the outright squabbles that were a constant feature when Berlusconi's anti-tax hawks were in the coalition.

Alfano said the NCD would not stay in government if it meant having to bow to diktats from Renzi. "We are not afraid of going to the polls, and (Renzi) should not pull the rope too hard," he said.

The Florence mayor replied "Italians are the ones who are tightening their belts" and pledged that if he wins the PD primary he will unveil a one-billion-euro cut to political costs and a "real" employment plan to help get Italy working again.

Letta was optimistic that the country was turning the corner.

"The end of the economic crisis is at hand," he said.