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Under-fire agriculture minister ready to address parliament

De Girolamo case causing more trouble for government

13 January, 14:48
Under-fire agriculture minister ready to address parliament (ANSA) - Rome, January 13 - Agriculture Minister Nunzia De Girolamo has said she is ready to report to parliament after coming under fire following the publication of wiretaps of her conversations regarding appointments in the southern province of Benevento. The wiretaps stemmed from an investigation into health sector appointments and contracts in which the 38-year-old minister is not being probed.

Nevertheless, De Girolamo has been accused of improper interference from some and the furore is increasing the turmoil Premier Enrico Letta's left-right coalition government is enduring.

Speculation that Letta may reshuffle his cabinet are growing increasingly insistent and the premier, who is currently on a three-day visit to Mexico, has not ruled this out.

While stressing that her job was in "Letta's hands", De Girolamo defended herself and said she had been the victim of "an unprecedented media lynching".

"I'm more that willing to clarify the aspects of this disturbing affair in parliament," said the centre-right lawmaker.

"I'm sure I didn't do anything improper".

De Girolamo won support from Interior Minister and Deputy Premier Angelino Alfano, the leader of her New Centre Right (NCD) party, who said the wiretaps had been published illegally.

But Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (PD), the biggest group in parliament, urged her to give a full explanation.

Letta's government has been hit by tension raised by repeated calls from the PD's ambitious new leader, 39-year-old Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, to speed up action on institutional and economic reforms after his landslide victory in a party primary last month.

Renzi's activism has unsettled the balance between the PD and its main coalition partner, the NCD, a group of pro-government centre-left moderates who split from loyalists of Silvio Berlusconi in November when it became clear that the ex-premier was intent on withdrawing his support for the executive.

Some have said a reshuffle is needed to reflect the new political equilibriums after Renzi's primary win.

Renzi and Letta had talks Friday about a policy pact between the parties supporting the government.

But there is clearly still friction and Renzi said in an interview at the weekend that Letta does not trust him.

Renzi has been pressing hard for a new election law to be introduced after the Constitutional Court declared illegitimate the former one, which has been blamed for contributing to the inconclusive outcome to last year's general election that made a coalition government necessary. He has denied suggestions this is because he wants to sink the government once a new election system is in place.

Renzi, a slick talking, telegenic politician who has been compared to the young Tony Blair, is not currently part of the government, but has made no secret of the fact that he one day wants to become premier.

He has stressed though that he wants to head the government after winning elections, not thanks to an agreement between parties like the one that saw Letta become premier.

There has been speculation the government's two 'technical' cabinet members who are not aligned to a political party, Justice Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri and Economy Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni, could be hit by a potential reshuffle.

Cancellieri survived a confidence vote last year after battling allegations of improper meddling in the release from jail of a woman in a corruption case involving family friends.

Saccomanni has come under fire over an embarrassing recent U-turn the government made after his ministry requested teachers give back seniority raises of around 150 euros per month in 2013 that it said they should not have been granted.

He has also been blamed for confusion regarding TASI, a new property tax that will replace the IMU tax, which was abolished last year, and a "mini-IMU" that residents in some cities will have to pay as a one-off this month.

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