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Premier Letta, PD chief Renzi meet for crunch talks on govt

Current executive seen as hanging by a thread

12 February, 12:48
Premier Letta, PD chief Renzi meet for crunch talks on govt (ANSA) - Rome, February 12 - Democratic Party (PD) leader Matteo Renzi arrived at the office of Premier Enrico Letta on Wednesday for crunch talks on the future of the coalition government. Renzi has openly questioned whether it is worth continuing to support the weak government led by his PD colleague Letta and the issue will be tackled at a party meeting Thursday.

There is intense 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 following last year's inconclusive general election. Renzi, the energetic 39-year-old mayor of Florence, has been harrying the government to accelerate on much-needed institutional reforms and measures to boost the troubled Italian economy since winning a party leadership primary with a landslide in December.

Letta, whose ability to deliver results has been impaired by the fractious nature of his governing alliance, responded Tuesday by saying he was about to present a policy pact that he was confident the parties supporting his executive, including the PD, would sign up to.

The PD is the biggest group in parliament but it does not have enough MPs to be able to govern without allies from the centre and centre-right, or the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), which anyway has ruled out working with the traditional parties.

At the moment the main options on the table appear to be a Renzi government or reinforcing the Letta administration with a reshuffle and commitment to his policy pact.

President Giorgio Napolitano, who has a key role to play in moments of political crisis, is thought to be opposed to a third option - dissolving parliament for early elections.

When asked about the situation late on Tuesday during a visit to Portugal, Napolitano said the next move was "up to the PD".

Napolitano met Letta before he left for Portugal on Tuesday after two hours of talks late on Monday with Renzi.

The head of State engineered the creation of Letta's government last April to end two months of deadlock after the general election.

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 also has 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.

"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".