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Resolute Letta puts ball in Renzi's court

Premier 'won't quit', rolls out govt policy pact

12 February, 20:12
Resolute Letta puts ball in Renzi's court (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, February 12 - A resolute Premier Enrico Letta presented a back-me-or-sack-me coalition pact for political parties supporting his government on Wednesday, announcing he did not intend to resign while putting the ball squarely in the court of his perceived rival, Democratic Party (PD) chief Matteo Renzi. In rolling out his 'Commitment 2014' package, Letta said he would not quit because of "rumors or palace manoeuvres" amid speculation Renzi may take his job. Letta demanded "clarity" of the PD leader to "say what he wants," something the premier said should be a requirement for anyone who wants to be in power - a dig at Renzi's rumoured ambitions. Speculation has been rising that Letta might be replaced by his PD colleague, who has openly questioned whether it is worth continuing to support the weak government, patched together after inconclusive elections and two weeks of parliamentary gridlock last year. Letta, whose ability to deliver results has been impaired by the fractious nature of his left-right governing alliance, has said that he was confident his policy pact would be endorsed by all the parties supporting his executive, including his PD. Renzi, elected in a landslide in December, has called a PD meeting Thursday to decide the fate of the coalition, with the Italian media forecasting three possible outcomes: him taking the helm from Letta; a reshuffle to bring in Renzi-ite ministers; or snap elections. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano dismissed election speculation earlier Wednesday as "nonsense", and Letta said a cabinet reshuffle was "not enough", suggesting the best outcome at this point was either a second mandate for his administration to govern or one for Renzi.

But, added Letta, "governments can only be born in parliament. My government was born in parliament". Renzi has been harrying the government to accelerate on much-needed institutional reforms and measures to boost the troubled Italian economy. 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 has adamantly ruled out working with the traditional parties.

Letta meanwhile appeared confident of winning over coalition parties, underlining his reform pact does not have an end date. "I won't set a date", he said, stressing the pact would focus on electoral reform, economic stimulus, and renegotiating EU budget restrictions.

Other key elements in his 57-page dossier, made available online, include "ambitious" reforms to Italy's school system, including a start age of five-years-old and continuing to 18. Schools should also be "safe and wired" with Internet access as part of an education system with kids at its centre, he said.

The fate of the policy pact and the future of Renzi's executive now rests in the hands of Renzi, who many speculate could seize on the current disequilibrium and make a move for the premier's palace - an ambition he's openly harbored, but one he insists on winning via the ballot box. The charismatic 39-year-old mayor of Florence said he would outline his position at a crunch party meeting Thursday. "I have read many reconstructions (of events) about the government," Renzi said via his Twitter account, @matteorenzi. "What I have to say, I'll say tomorrow at 15.00 at the party meeting. In streaming (on the Internet), frankly".

Despite the political uncertainty, Letta told reporters he was unfazed. "I'm serene," he said. "Or rather Zen-like".