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Renzi set to unveil cabinet Friday

Deal sealed with Alfano

21 February, 10:24
Renzi set to unveil cabinet Friday (ANSA) - Rome, February 21 - Premier-designate Matteo Renzi will present his cabinet to President Giorgio Napolitano Friday, sources in his Democratic Party (PD) said. They said Renzi sealed a deal in overnight talks with Angelino Alfano, leader of the junior government partner, the New Centre Right (NCD. Renzi, 39, who would be Italy's youngest premier, is expected to put the government to confidence tests Monday and Tuesday so he can move swiftly onto his ambitious reform programme.

The outgoing Florence, nicknamed Demolition Man for his plans to scrap the old order, wants to pass one major reform a 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 ex-premier and centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi is scheduled to go before the House Tuesday.

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

The NCD has set a number of conditions including having an economy minister "who won't raise taxes" and a justice minister who will guarantee suspects' and defense rights.

Renzi has been likened to the young Tony Blair for his break with the PD's post-Communist old guard and to Happy Days hep cat Fonzie because of his can-do attitude and penchant for rolled-up sleeves, sunglasses and bomber jackets.

He launched his government bid by torpedoing the coalition administration of his PD colleague Enrico Letta last week over his lack of progress with much-needed institutional reforms and measures to revive the troubled economy.

Italy is slowly emerging from its longest postwar recession, but it is still ravaged by unemployment of over 12% with over four in 10 under-25s out of work.

Constitutional changes are also needed to streamline government and reduce the cost of the country's expensive, slow-moving political system.

The PD chief said his new administration would be supported by the same majority as Letta's, with Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Alfano's NCD as key partner.

But he has reportedly demanded Alfano choose between the two posts.

Renzi has called the NCD reform programme, which also reportedly rejected a wealth tax, "very good and positive".

The NCD, 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, had warned Renzi beforehand that his government would never come to life if its demands were not met.

Three-time premier Berlusconi, meanwhile, 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 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.

He reckons this would save over a billion euros at a time where Italians have expressed widespread revulsion at a seemingly endless string of funding scandals.

The plans would give the winner in the House a 37% bonus to govern without fear of falling while setting bars for smaller parties to remove their veto powers.

The NCD is reportedly unhappy about the height of the bars and may push to have them lowered.

Berlusconi, who despite his office ban has returned to centre stage, stressed this week the time was ripe to give Italy an effective system of government. "The country needs to become a governable country," said Berlusconi after this week's talks with Renzi.

"We wish the premier-designate and his team all the best," added the 77-year-old billionaire, 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.

He reiterated this Thursday, telling FI to "get ready for an election in 2015" 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 pushed through a savage austerity plan that righted finances but deepened the recession.

Monti made way for outgoing Letta's coalition government after last year's inconclusive general election.

Renzi's talks went fairly smoothly this week with parties voicing their expected support or opposition, although things hotted up Thursday when maverick 5-Star Movement (M5S) leader Beppe Grillo ripped into the premier-designate and launched a familiar rant about wanting to tear down the established order - although this time, unusually, he did not use profanities.