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Renzi ready to become Italy's youngest premier

PD leader presents new govt to President Napolitano

21 February, 21:26
Renzi ready to become Italy's youngest premier (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, February 21 - Democratic Party (PD) leader Matteo Renzi was hours away from becoming Italy's youngest-ever premier after telling President Giorgio Napolitano he was ready to form a new government on Friday.

The 39-year-old and his lean, young cabinet - made up of 16 ministers, half of whom are women - will be sworn in on Saturday at 11:00 local time and the administration will face confidence votes in parliament early next week.

Renzi takes power after torpedoing the coalition government led by his PD colleague Enrico Letta last week for being too slow on enacting reforms to streamline the political system and revive the country's troubled economy.

"I have accepted the responsibility of giving Italy a government of hope," Renzi said after three hours of talks with Napolitano in which he dropped his formal "reservation" about accepting a government-formation mandate and presented the new executive. Renzi, an energetic, telegenic character who has been compared to the young Tony Blair, said his administration was aiming to last until the end of the parliamentary term in 2018.

He stressed that it would start work Saturday "to do the things that need doing straight away, otherwise the impression is one of conservation for conservation".

The new government "has the chance to achieve reforms that have not be done for years," he said. "The country has no alternative".

Italy is slowly emerging from its longest postwar recession, but the recovery is weak and economists say structural reforms are needed to give business a lasting boost and cut record unemployment of over 12%, with over four in 10 under-25s out of work. Napolitano - who had engineered Letta's government to end months of deadlock after last year's inconclusive general election - said he was fully backing the new administration, and denied reports of tension between himself and the premier-in-waiting. "There was no arm-wrestling," Napolitano said. "This is an opportunity we cannot afford to waste... I agree with Matteo Renzi on the need to achieve institutional and economic reforms in a short period".

The head of State said he also agreed with Renzi that the government should last until 2018.

Renzi will be the third consecutive premier not directly elected by the Italian people.

Deals between parties led to the creation of Letta's administration and the emergency technocrat government of Mario Monti in 2011.

The new administration will be supported by the same majority as Letta's, with outgoing Angelino Alfano's New Centre Right (NCD) as junior partner.

Alfano is the leader of a group of centre-right moderates who split from Silvio 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.

He was deputy premier and interior minister in Letta's executive, but he will only serve the latter role under Renzi.

Renzi said this week that his government would seek to achieve one major reform every month until May, starting this month with a new election law to replace the dysfunctional old system that was declared unconstitutional in December.

An election-reform bill Renzi negotiated with centre-right leader Berlusconi is currently being examined in parliament.

"This will be followed immediately afterwards by labour reforms in March, public-administration reforms in April and fiscal (reforms) in May," Renzi said Monday.

Berlusconi has said his Forza Italia (FI) party would conduct "responsible opposition" to the government while cooperating with Renzi on reforms.

In addition the election-law deal, 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 anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), the second-biggest group in parliament, are staunchly opposed to the new government.