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Letta says govt marks 'generation change' for Italy

40-somethings must not fail, says Letta

23 December, 16:50
Letta says govt marks 'generation change' for Italy (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, December 23 - Premier Enrico Letta said Monday that Italian politics underwent a "generational turning point" when his left-right coalition government was sworn in in April. "In one stroke Italy recovered 30 years," said Letta, whose cabinet broke new ground by being relatively young and featuring a relatively high proportion of women, including Italy's first black cabinet member, Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge. "This year and next will be remembered as an unprecedented generational turning point in the history of the Italian republic," the premier added in his end-of-year press conference.

The grip the old guard of politics held on power has been blamed for a lack of dynamism in Italy's public life.

Letta, a 47-year-old member of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), replaced the 70-year-old Mario Monti as premier.

Monti's emergency technocrat administration, in turn, took over from the third government of 77-year-old media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, the dominant figure in Italian politics for two decades.

But Letta's arrival at the helm of government is not the only sign things may be changing.

Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, a 38-year-old who has been waging a campaign for Italy's political old guard to be sent to the scrap heap, recently took over as leader of the PD.

The PD's main government coalition partner, the small New Centre Right, is headed by 43-year-old Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, who last month broke ranks with his former mentor Berlusconi. Renzi's PD executive is composed of seven women and five men, with an average age in the mid-30s.

Letta said that the generation of Italian politics' 40-somethings has been "put to the test, adding that "it cannot fail, it has no alibis". The premier added Monday he was aware that hardship was widespread after years of economic crisis, with unemployment standing at a record level of 12.5% and over four in 10 Italians under 25 out of work.

But he also said he was confident 2014 would be a watershed year in which Italy returns to a full year of economic growth after its longest post-war recession. "The many Doubting Thomases will be proved wrong," Letta said. "I'm convinced the outlook for 2014 is positive". He added that nothing will be off limits when the government talks to the parties supporting the executive on ways to combat unemployment in January in view of the signing of a policy pact to ensure the executive does not get bogged down with bickering between the different groups.

"All that helps new jobs will be welcome," Letta said when asked if there could be changes to legislation on workers rights, "as long as it's good employment, not without rights".

Renzi has suggested making it easier for firms to fire employees, a move many experts say would actually encourage them to hire people. In compensation Renzi has suggested making unemployment benefits available for longer and to more people. "We have to take this opportunity to break the vicious circle of youth unemployment," said Letta. Monti's administration tried to introduce reforms to make Italy's labour market more dynamic, but it watered these down following opposition from Italy's largest trade union, the leftwing CGIL, and from then PD chief Pier Luigi Bersani.

Letta said the government will also discuss changing Italy's migration laws, which make being an undocumented migrant a criminal offence, with the parties. He said he wants the law that means people born in Italy to migrants are not automatically Italian citizens changed as part of the policy pact too.

Letta also spoke to the old guard on Monday and appealed to Berlusconi not to turn "nihilist" after he pulled the support of his centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party from the executive.

FI moved to the opposition last month, days before votes from Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) helped see Berlusconi ejected from the Senate following a definitive tax-fraud conviction against the three-time premier. Since then Berlusconi and FI bigwigs have been extremely critical of the government they supported for seven months. This does not bode well for the chances of getting FI's support for institutional reforms that the government wants to push through to cut the cost of Italy's political machinery and make the country easier to govern.

"Berlusconi should not take a nihilist, populist road," Letta said at the premier's traditional end-of-year news conference. "It would be a mistake for the country and for him. The political story that he has behind him cannot end with a populist, nihilist bent". Reforming the Senate so it does not have equal lawmaking status with the House, making lawmaking less complicated, is one of the priorities for the government in 2014, Letta said.

He also pledged that Italy will have a new election law, after the one used in the last three elections was declared illegitimate by the Constitutional Court, before the European Parliament elections at the end of May.