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Renzi brings forward crunch party meeting on govt

Executive led by PD colleague Letta risks collapse

11 February, 12:39
Renzi brings forward crunch party meeting on govt (ANSA) - Rome, February 11 - Matteo Renzi, the head of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), said Tuesday he was bringing forward a crunch party meeting on the future of the government led by his PD colleague, Premier Enrico Letta, to Thursday.

The meeting was originally scheduled for February 20.

Renzi, the energetic 39-year-old mayor of Florence, has been harrying the government to accelerate on much-needed reforms since winning a party leadership primary with a landslide in December.

He is openly questioning whether it is worth continuing with Letta's weak left-right coalition government, which came to power in April to end two months of deadlock after last year's inconclusive general election.

"It is false to say that our party is putting the brakes on the government," Renzi, who has been accused of undermining the premier rather than supporting him, told a meeting of PD lawmakers on Tuesday.

"But the problem is a political one - that is to decide whether this parliamentary term can be one of change, or decide otherwise". There is speculation that Renzi could take over as premier, even though he has always said he wanted to take the helm of government after winning elections and not as a result of a pact between parties like the one that saw Letta come to power.

Another possibility is that Italy will return to the polls for early elections later this year.

There is also the hypothesis of Letta's administration being reinforced with a cabinet reshuffle incorporating Renzi loyalists.

Renzi had two hours of talks late on Monday with President Giorgio Napolitano, who engineered the creation of Letta's government and last week voiced his "appreciation" of it, amid speculation it may be on its last legs.

Napolitano may meet later on Tuesday with Letta, who reportedly is planning to give the PD and the minority parties in the ruling coalition a back-me-or-sack me ultimatum based on a package of institutional reforms and measures aiming at boosting the Italian economy weakened by two years of recession.

Renzi has blasted Letta's failure to make progress on institutional reforms designed to make Italy easier to govern and reduce the cost of the nation's political apparatus, saying little has been achieved 10 months into the 18-month period Letta set his executive to complete them.

He has contrasted this inaction with his own dynamism. Renzi last month reached a deal with centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi for a new election law to replace the dysfunctional system that was declared unconstitutional in December.

The package, which is currently being examined in parliament, sets bars for small parties to force them into alliances and limit their power of veto and a 15% winner's bonus for a coalition that gets 37% or more to ensure it has a working majority.

Renzi has also an agreement with Berlusconi to reform parliament by stripping the Senate of its lawmaking powers to make it easier to pass legislation and to turn the Upper House into a chamber made up of 150 city mayors, governors and civil-society representatives, rather than the current 315 elected members.

In addition, the PD leader and the 77-year-old billionaire have a deal to change the Constitution to scrap Italy's provincial governments, and hand back regional powers to Rome, to save money.