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Renzi prepares cabinet as junior partner sets terms

Govt line-up 'a matter of hours' says premier-designate

20 February, 20:30
Renzi prepares cabinet as junior partner sets terms (By Denis Greenan).

(ANSA) - Rome, February 20 - Premier-designate Matteo Renzi was upbeat Thursday he could soon complete a cabinet list to present to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and become Italy's youngest premier.

Renzi, 39, said the delicate job of piecing together the line-up could be wound up in "a matter of hours", increasing the likelihood the cabinet may be unveiled Friday. "It's a matter of hours and we'll complete everything," the charismatic and dynamic Renzi told reporters outside the HQ of his Democratic Party (PD).

Getting into a car, he replied to a fusillade of questions with: "All well, all well." Renzi, who is facing several conditions from junior partner the New Centre Right (NCD) including naming an economy minister "who will not raise taxes", is expected to put his government to confidence votes on Monday and Tuesday.

The outgoing Florence mayor would be Italy's fourth premier in just over two years and the third straight unelected head of government after Mario Monti and the PD premier Renzi ousted last week, Enrico Letta.

Earlier, NCD leader Angelino Alfano set three main conditions for continuing to support the same left-right government Letta had.

He said the NCD wanted a justice minister who was a guarantor of suspect and defendants' rights, and argued that a reform of Italy's election law should be linked to wider Constitutional reforms and not pushed through parliament as Renzi has vowed to do after a deal with centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi.

Meanwhile the list of big names who have declined reported offers of a government post lengthened when London Business School lecturer Lucrezia Reichlin said she was "out of the game" for the key post of economy minister. The former dean of Milan's Bocconi University, Guido Tabellini, is the bookmakers' favourite to get the post Alfano wants filled by a tax-cutting minister.

The former No.2 at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Pier Carlo Padoan, is second in the running, bookies and pundits say.

The head of the confederation of Italian industry, Giorgio Squinzi, on Thursday called on a Renzi-led administration to provide "answers" to a country that is "at the end of its tether after a crisis which has lasted for six years".

Italy officially emerged from its longest postwar recession in the second half of 2013 but the anaemic fourth-quarter growth of 0.1% has yet to make a dent in record unemployment or help ease dramatically increased poverty.

Italy needs to fully emerge from recession as soon as possible, Squinzi said. He said Confindustria would rate the government line-up when Renzi unveils his cabinet.

Earlier Alfano, the outgoing deputy premier and interior minister, warned Renzi that his government would never come to life if NCD demands were not met.

"We already have our Excel spreadsheet ready, with a precise list of our priorities and a timetable for its implementation and goals," Alfano said following an NCD meeting.

"Today is an important day," for Renzi to understand the NCD demands, and for Renzi to make his own plans more clear, said Alfano.

Renzi, who has been dubbed Demolition Man for his long-stated desire to scrap the political elite that has failed to solve long-standing institutional and economic problems, took up the government challenge after pulling the plug on Letta, accusing his PD colleague of being too slow on enacting reforms to streamline the political system and revive an economy slowly emerging form its longest postwar recession.

The premier-designate, who has also been compared to a young Tony Blair, said he intends to present an ambitious reform programme.

Renzi has already called the NCD reform program, which reportedly rejected a wealth tax as well as calling for a moderate justice minister, "very good and positive".

The NCD is a group of centre-right moderates who split from Berlusconi's revived Forza Italia (FI) party when it rejected the ex-premier's bid to scupper Letta after the PD insisted on a Senate ban for the media magnate following a tax-fraud conviction.

Three-time premier Berlusconi has reiterated his stance that FI would conduct "responsible opposition" to the government while cooperating with Renzi on reforms.

Renzi last month reached a deal with the billionaire centre-right leader for a new election law to replace the dysfunctional system that was declared unconstitutional in December.

Renzi also has an agreement with Berlusconi to change the Constitution to strip the Senate of its lawmaking powers to make it easier to pass legislation, turning the Upper House into a leaner assembly of local-government representatives, and to abolish the country's provincial governments and bring some powers back to central government from the regions.

"The country needs to become a governable country," said Berlusconi after meeting Renzi Wednesday.

"We wish the premier-designate and his team all the best," added the 77-year-old entrepreneur, one of Italy's richest men, who led FI's delegation despite his ban on office.

"We're also in favor of rejuvenating the government. Today I met a premier who's half my age - a good sign for the renewal of the ruling class".

While wishing Renzi well, Berlusconi has said he does not agree with the political maneuvering that is set to see him become premier and thinks the country should return to the polls.

On Thursday he told FI: "Let's be prepared for the polls in a year's time".

Berlusconi was the last premier to be elected by the Italian people.

The most recent of Berlusconi's three governments collapsed when he resigned in November 2011 with Italy in danger of a Greek-style financial meltdown.

It was replaced by the emergency technocrat administration of Mario Monti, which made way for outgoing Letta's coalition government after last year's inconclusive general election.

The leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), Beppe Grillo, on Wednesday prevented Renzi from getting more than a few words in edgeways during talks that rapidly degenerated into a one-sided rant by the foul-mouthed millionaire comedian-cum-politician.

Grillo, whose party came a close second to the PD a year ago, openly told Renzi he was "not democratic" and wanted to bring the PD down along with all the mainstream parties.

Grillo then gave the press a furious monologue repeating that he wanted to tear down the establishment.

Opinion polls Thursday were split on whether Grillo's latest stunt had helped or hindered his cause.

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