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Renzi govt set to win parliament's confidence

Finish line in sight, fourth new cabinet in under three years

25 February, 20:13
Renzi govt set to win parliament's confidence (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, February 25 - Premier Matteo Renzi was set to win his second and final confidence vote on Tuesday, marking the finish line in forming a new government, Italy's fourth in just over two years. In a speech before the Lower House voted on his executive, the 39-year-old's tone was one of urgency to implement a series of long-touted reforms to jumpstart the country's sclerotic economy. Citing a European Commission report earlier Tuesday that showed joblessness in the eurozone's third-largest economy was likely to be worse than predicted, Renzi told the House there was an "unemployment emergency" in Italy. The EC has revised its unemployment forecast for Italy to 12.6% in 2014 and 12.4% in 2015, faulting bad labor-market conditions and weak consumer demand.

In November the EC was more optimistic, forecasting joblessness over the next two years at 12.4% and 12.1%, respectively. "It's not just a number," said Renzi, the former mayor of Florence and now youngest premier in Italian history. "We must respond with the courage to revolutionize the country's economic and regulatory systems".

In addition, Renzi promised to make "double-digit" income and labour tax cuts worth billions of euros, cuts that would be made in actual euros and not in percentages.

It was one of several allusions to pledges he made a day earlier before the Senate, outlining sweeping economic reforms such as repaying all government debt to firms and setting up guarantee funds to make credit accessible to small and medium-sized businesses reeling from a slow recovery after Italy's worst recession since World War II. He has also vowed swift election-law reforms aimed at preventing the type of government deadlock seen following general elections this time last year, when no party won a clear majority, producing the unstable left-right coalition government of Renzi's predecessor, Enrico Letta. The reform bill, negotiated with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi earlier this year, marked a crucial turning point in the center-left Democratic Party (PD) chief's ascent to premier.

Leading up to his swearing-in Saturday, pundits and politicians alike remarked that the accord with the center right signaled Renzi's prowess at reaching across the aisle and moving deals through Italy's complicated political machinery faster than his party colleague Letta, ousted as premier in a PD coup two weeks ago for perceived ineffectiveness. Among his first orders of business Wednesday is to visit a school in the northern Italian city of Treviso as part of an education drive that is central to his government agenda. He has vowed to visit a school every Wednesday, heading to the south next week, because education is "the engine of growth.

It's essential the government is not only in Rome," he said before his first confidence test in the House on Monday. In one of the bolder moments of his speech, Renzi took a jab at controversial austerity policies promoted by the European Union over the past several years, saying his government did not want a Europe that tells Italy what to do. Instead, it wants a Europe to which Italy "gives a fundamental contribution, because without Italy there is no Europe". After the speech, ex-premier Letta was seen applauding, and even former Democratic Party (PD) chairman Pier Luigi Bersani - Renzi's perceived political foe - told Italy's Lower House the new premier needed its support, despite his government's shortcomings. "Humility may not be among its greatest virtues, but this government has issued a very serious challenge and is one that will need our help," Bersani said. "This help must be extended, once its objectives, which still need a little definition, are made clear".