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Renzi starts govt talks, faces cabinet headaches

Premier-designate may have executive ready by Sunday

18 February, 20:17
Renzi starts govt talks, faces cabinet headaches (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, February 18 - Premier-Designate Matteo Renzi kicked off consultations with Italian parties on Tuesday in an effort to forge a governing majority, while obstacles in staffing a cabinet appeared to be surfacing. The talks are the latest step in the dynamic 39-year-old's ascent to power after staging a coup last week within the center-left Democratic Party (PD) he leads. At a party meeting he called Thursday, the PD voted almost unanimously to pull its support from Premier Enrico Letta, one of their own, for not moving more swiftly to enact reforms to fix a broken election law and to jumpstart the economy, still reeling from Italy's worst recession since World War II, record youth unemployment and over two trillion euros in debt. On Monday, President Giorgio Napolitano handed the Florence mayor a government-formation mandate, which pundits say makes the birth of a new executive likely by Sunday. First he will need the support of several small centrist parties and the New Centre Right (NCD) of Angelino Alfano, Letta's interior minister and deputy premier, to have a working majority in the Senate.

If successful Renzi will become the youngest premier in Italian history, the fourth in just over two years, and the third-consecutive who was not elected. On Tuesday talks began with smaller parties like the left-wing SEL and the right-wing Northern League, both of whom confirmed their opposition. "We have never thought of voting for an unelected government, no less a government from the left," said League chief Matteo Salvini, stressing the point of the meetings was to "express our ideas". Puglia Governor Nichi Vendola, the head of SEL, said his party was "unavailable" to support a Renzi executive, "which has the same coalition" as the previous one. "We will not contribute to the birth of a government founded on a compromise between the center left and the right".

The outgoing government was plagued since its founding in April last year by an unnatural alliance between the PD and the center-left, headed by three-time premier Silvio Berlusconi. The unprecedented left-right coalition was the reluctant outcome to follow inconclusive 2013 February elections and two months of parliamentary deadlock. Those same challenges may be in store for Renzi, threatening his much-touted economic reforms and perhaps even the lifespan of his executive, making the prospect of joining his cabinet less tantalizing for some rumored ministerial candidates, according to media reports. Andrea Guerra, the CEO of Italian eyewear giant Luxottica, has already refused a rumored offer to become industry minister, and former Italian premier Romano Prodi has shot down media speculation he could be tapped as economy minister. Other rumored cabinet prospects include Eataly food emporium founder Oscar Farinetti as agriculture minister and Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo as industry minister. When asked, the latter gave no comment. Likely holdovers from the outgoing executive are Foreign Minister Emma Bonino and Regional Affairs Minister Graziano Delrio, a close ally of Renzi.

According to media reports, Letta has flatly refused offers from Renzi to stay on as economy minister, the most important cabinet position, given Italy's economic woes. Meanwhile consultations were set to culminate Wednesday with the PD and Berlusconi's center-right Forza Italia. While unlikely, talks may even include the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), the second-largest single party in parliament. M5S founder Beppe Grillo, a comic-turned-politician, said Tuesday a Renzi government would be a "farce" given it was not elected by popular vote, "but it seems proper to let our members decide in a vote online".