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Letta starts thrashing out policy pact with parties

Aim to reduce bickering, increase stability for coalition govt

07 January, 16:46
Letta starts thrashing out policy pact with parties (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, January 7 - Premier Enrico Letta was set to start talks on Tuesday with the parties supporting his left-right coalition government on a pact for its policies for this year.

The aim is to avoid the instability that has dogged Letta's government for much of the time since it 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 last year.

Berlusconi's party, which he has revamped under its former name Forza Italia, pulled its support for the government in November 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.

Letta has postponed a summit with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that was set to take place in Istanbul on January 17 to be able to work on the policy pact. Letta's government has a long list of problems that urgently need to be addressed.

It is aiming to boost the Italian economy after two years of recession and combat unemployment that has reached record levels of 12.5%, with over four in 10 under-25s out of work.

The executive also wants to push through 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 things.

The round of consultations starts Tuesday with a meeting with the small centrist Civic Choice (SC) party, which was founded by Letta's predecessor, Mario Monti. Later this week Letta will meet Alfano and Matteo Renzi, the 38-year-old mayor of Florennce who has been waging a campaign for Italy's political old guard to be sent to the scrap heap and recently took over as leader of the PD.

Alfano and Renzi have expressed major differences in recent weeks over what the policy pact should cover.

On Friday Alfano struck down the idea proposed by Renzi of making the legal recognition of civil partnerships - including same-sex unions - part of the pact.

Alfano also took issue with another suggestion by Renzi for an overhaul of Italy's tough immigration laws.

The pair also have differences over what the new election law should be like, with Renzi saying the PD will not limit its search for agreement on the issue to the NCD, but will also try to strike a deal with opposition parties. Problems within the PD could also cause problems for Letta's executive.

Renzi is on the right of the party and is viewed with suspicion by many in the PD establishment, especially given his frequently criticisms of the government for not moving fast enough on reforms.

The tension within the party erupted at the weekend when Stefano Fassina, a leftwing PD member, quit as junior economy minister after Renzi quipped that he did not know who he was. Fassina said he resigned because a cabinet reshuffle was needed to reflect the new situation after Renzi won a party primary in December.