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Renzi gets down to 'serious' business at Treviso school

Faces down orange-wielding hecklers, gets praise from the EC

26 February, 19:48
Renzi gets down to 'serious' business at Treviso school (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Treviso, February 26 - Premier Matteo Renzi got down to what he has described as the "serious" work of government on Wednesday with a visit to a school in the northern city of Treviso, capping off a day that included orange-hurling protesters, praise from the European Commission and skepticism from the country's powerful industrial confederation.

The coalition government of the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) is fully operational after it won confidence votes in the Lower and Upper Houses of parliament on Tuesday. Renzi, Italy's youngest-ever premier at 39, has stressed that government should go outside Rome and he has pledged to visit a school every week, stressing that education is the key to reversing the economic decline the country has experienced in recent years. "Education is the engine of growth," Renzi, who is married to a teacher, said in a speech in the Senate Monday ahead of the confidence vote there. "It's essential the government is not only in Rome". Renzi visited Treviso's Coletti middle school with Education Minister Stefania Giannini and Labour Minister Giuliano Poletti and met teachers and pupils. The school is in the suburbs of the northeastern city and has a high percentage of children born to migrants.

"It went well, very well," he said afterwards. Renzi also held meetings with workers, entrepreneurs and local government representatives in Treviso.

There he moved onto the economy, the third-largest in the eurozone, vowing to have a package of labour reforms and job-boosting measures ready before a bilateral summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel next month. The package will be based on the measures in the Jobs Act he proposed last month before he became premier. Renzi has described Italy's unemployment rates - which have climbed to over 12%, with over four in 10 under-25s out of work, and are forecast to stay high even though the country is slowly emerging from its longest postwar recession - as "merciless and devastating". He has also said Italy needs to show leadership in the European Union and push for a new path based on promoting employment and economic growth after years of austerity policies promoted by Berlin.

"Between now and March 17, when we'll have the bilateral meeting with Angela Merkel, we'll get our ideas clear about the work plan and we'll go to the meeting with the Jobs Act largely ready," Renzi said during the meeting, which included Veneto Governor Luca Zaia. One of the main aims of Renzi's Job Act would be to simplify Italy's labour system, eliminating many parts of the current myriad of work contracts and lay-off benefits.

A key proposal of the package Renzi announced last month, before unseating his PD colleague Enrico Letta as premier and taking the helm of government, is to have single employment contracts with job protection growing with seniority. As things are, older workers with regular contracts tend to enjoy extremely high levels of job protection, while young people are often forced to accept temporary contracts or other forms of freelance employment that guarantee them few rights and little job security. The current system has been blamed for making firms reluctant to hire, as it is so hard for them to dismiss workers once they are on the books, and contributing to the high levels of joblessness, especially among the young.

His visit to Treviso was not without incident. On his way to the school, protesters threw oranges and shouted "buffoon" at him. None of the fruit found its target and Renzi brushed off the protests that included the anti-austerity Forconi (Pitchfork) movement as well as regionalists who shouted "murderer" at the premier to back their demands for a referendum on the northern Veneto region separating from the rest of Italy.

Renzi said the protests were a "normal" part of political life. Later, the spokesman for the European Commission complimented Italy's new premier on his first week on the job, noting Renzi expressed ambitions for Europe and for Italy. Spokesman Olivier Bailly added that this was "the most that could be hoped for from a leader," and that it is important Italy has ideas on how to advance Europe and on the direction that it must take. Meanwhile the chief of the Italian industrialists' association Confindustria reserved judgement, comparing Italy's newly formed government to an untested product he could not yet endorse. "Certifications are always given on the basis of data, concrete data, which we are waiting to see," Giorgio Squinzi said. Squinzi expressed disappointment with Renzi's predecessor Letta, who also showed promising vision, and whose left-right government makeup resembles that of Renzi's. "I had and still have great respect for Enrico Letta as a person. Unfortunately as a government (head), he was not able to keep the promises he made to businesses," said Squinzi. Squinzi laid out high priorities for industrialists - reducing the tax burden on labour, additional tax reforms and simplification of bureaucracy. Asked whether he thought Renzi could accomplish them, Squinzi said, "I don't know. I don't have the elements to say.

Let's hope it happens. I hope it is possible. Let's wish for it for the country".