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Tension for Letta govt soars as Renzi, Alfano squabble

NCD leader says PD must decide if it wants Letta to be premier

15 January, 17:50
Tension for Letta govt soars as Renzi, Alfano squabble (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, January 15 - Premier Enrico Letta faced growing political tension when he returned from a three-day visit to Mexico on Wednesday, with the leaders of the two main parties supporting his coalition government engaged in major squabbles.

Matteo Renzi, the ambitious new leader of Letta's centre-left Democratic Party (PD), continued to press for the executive to get cracking on reforms Tuesday, arguing it was an "euphemism" to say the government has not done much since being sworn in last April. He attacked Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, the leader of the New Centre Right (NCD) party, for his stance on a new election law and on institutional reforms designed to make Italy easier to govern. Renzi, the telegenic 39-year-old mayor of Florence who has been compared to the young Tony Blair, also said the PD, the biggest group in parliament, should dictate the government's policies from now on.

Alfano hit back on Wednesday.

"We won't let anyone dictate the agenda," he said on Italian radio. "Arrogance does not go down well with the Italian people".

After the spat via media, Renzi and Alfano had a face-to-face meeting on Wednesday, ANSA sources said.

Renzi's pressure for the government to accelerate has unsettled the balance between the PD and the NCD, a group of centre-right 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.

Alfano said the NCD would pull out of the government if Renzi, who was elected PD leader in a primary last month, continues to "shake" it.

"The PD should meet and decide if Letta is the recognised premier," said Alfano. "If that's the case, we'll keep going. Otherwise there's no use going round in circles and keeping Italy on tenterhooks.

"We want clear pacts and a short friendship (between the PD and the NCD) for one year. "If the government gets paralysed or there is the arrogance of people saying only the PD's proposals will go through, we'll pull out". Renzi has stirred friction with Alfano with his suggestions for the policy pact that Letta is currently thrashing out with the parties supporting the government.

These include suggestions the pact should include measures to recognise gay unions and should soften Italy's tough immigration laws. The NCD is opposed to both proposals. Renzi, who is not a part of the government, also irked Alfano, thereby causing problems for Letta, by saying the PD would not let vetoes from the NCD stop it reaching an agreement for a new election law, if necessary by striking deals with opposition parties.

A PD spokesman confirmed Wednesday that Renzi had had talks with a senior member of Berlusconi's Forza Italia party recently over the election law. Italy needs a new election law after the dysfunctional old one, blamed for the inconclusive outcome of last February's election that made a coalition government necessary, was ruled as being invalid by the Constitutional Court.

Renzi has denied suggestions this is because he wants to sink the government once a new election system is in place, but some members of his own party have said they don't believe him.

Renzi 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 of a coalition government following last year's inconclusive vote.

The government has also been hit by ongoing speculation about a possible cabinet reshuffle, even though Renzi has said such moves are a relic of Italy's political past. "Everyone wants a reshuffle, but no one says so," Alfano said.

"It's up to Letta to have the responsibility and fatigue of finding the composition (of the cabinet)". The reshuffle talk has been fuelled in part by a furore over Agriculture Minister Nunzia De Girolamo, who has come 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 by some, and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) on Wednesday presented a no-confidence motion against her in the Lower House.