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Renzi presents plan for cheaper, weaker Upper House

Senate to be halved to 150 members, with no salaries

06 February, 20:02
Renzi presents plan for cheaper, weaker Upper House (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, February 6 - The head of Italy's largest party laid out his plan for a leaner and weaker Upper House on Thursday. Matteo Renzi, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), said that the reformed Senate of Italy's parliament will have 150 members, according to a draft reform drawn up after he reached a deal with centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi last month. The Senate is set to become a chamber of regions and be largely stripped of its lawmaking powers as part of reforms designed to make Italy easier to govern and reduce the cost of the country's political apparatus. The Upper House currently has 315 elected members plus five life Senators. After reforms it would be made up of regional officials, including mayors and regional governers, as well as 21 prestigious members of civil society picked by the Italian president for one term only. Senators would no longer require a paycheck since they already receive salaries with their other titles. Renzi presented the draft reform at a meeting of PD bigwigs in Rome. "It will be made up of 150 people, including the 108 mayors of provincial capitals, 21 regional governors and 21 representatives of civil society," Renzi said before heading into the meeting. Renzi, the energetic 39-year-old mayor of Florence, has been working hard to introduce much-needed institutional reforms since winning a PD leadership primary with a landslide in December. A bill for a new election law to replace the dysfunctional system that was declared unconstitutional last year is currently being examined by parliament after Renzi reached an agreement with three-time premier Berlusconi on this issue too.

"This is the year in which the problems need to be solved," said Renzi, who is not part of the government led by his PD colleague, Premier Enrico Letta. "It's no longer enough to stroke the problems. Time is up".

At the PD meeting, he denied tensions with the premier, insisting the government should go on and has the PD's "constant faith". Renzi claimed credit for accelerating electoral reform, saying his deal with Berlusconi was not a problem for the government and should not spur a reshuffle. "The PD is giving the country a hand," the Florence mayor told party brass. Issues including a possible remix to bring Renzi loyalists into government should be discussed "with our cards on the table," he said. There has been talk of naming new cabinet members since Berlusconi lost his Senate seat on a tax-fraud conviction after failing to bring Letta down and sparking a split that led to the creation of the small New Centre Right. The talk intensified after Renzi won a landslide victory in PD primaries and started to up pressure on the government to deliver on reform pledges. Renzi said the electoral reform plan, which includes turning the Senate into a regional body so an election winner only needs the confidence of the House, "has the support of the main parties" and would go forward in parliament from February 15.