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Renzi completes slender team, acts to avert Rome crisis

Premier's names 35 undersecretaries, nine junior ministers

28 February, 20:00
Renzi completes slender team, acts to avert Rome crisis (By Paul Virgo) (see related story on unemployment) (ANSA) - Rome, February 28 - Premier Matteo Renzi on Friday completed a slimmed-down government team and moved to deal with his fledgling executive's first major headache, regarding the finances of the cash-strapped Rome city council.

At a cabinet meeting on Friday, Renzi, the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), appointed 35 new undersecretaries and nine junior ministers in addition to the 16-minister cabinet that was sworn in last weekend. The number of appointments is smaller than in the previous executive - three fewer undersecretaries compared with the administration of his predecessor Enrico Letta, and one less junior minister. Furthermore, Letta started out with 21 ministers, including five women, while half of Renzi's cabinet is female, marking the first time parity between the sexes has been achieved in an Italian executive. This is line with Renzi's comments on the need for Italy's political class to give a good example by cutting costs after years of austerity policies that have inflicted severe economic pain on the general population.

His government plans institutional reforms to revamp the Senate as a leaner, less powerful assembly of local-government representatives and to eliminate Italy's provincial governments as part of efforts to reduce the costs of the country's political apparatus and make it more effective. Some have argued Renzi, Italy's youngest premier at 39, has not gone far enough with his government team.

But the new premier had to offer positions to keep the PD junior coalition partners happy.

The cabinet also approved a decree giving a 570-million-euro advance to Rome after Mayor Ignazio Marino warned the capital risked grinding to a halt as soon as Sunday over a budget shortfall.

Marino said Thursday that the capital was in danger of being unable to provide public transport, pay city employees and host the April canonisation of popes John XXIII and John Paul II. Renzi, who was also the mayor of Florence until he became premier, chastised his PD colleague Marino for the "tone" he used.

Nevertheless, on Friday the government approved a new version of the so-called Save Rome decree to avert the crisis Marino had warned of.

"I didn't attack Renzi," Marino said Friday. "I just defended the honour of the Roman people". The row erupted after the government announced Wednesday that it was dropping a former version of the decree, passed by the administration of Renzi's predecessor Enrico Letta, as it was set to be timed out because of obstructionism from opposition parties.

The cash injection, which Rome will have to pay back in installments, will cover more than half of the capital's 2013 shortfall of around 800 million euros, which Marino says he inherited from his centre-right predecessor last year. Dozens of Italian councils have defaulted since a 2012 law slashed transfers to local administrations while requiring they keep their budgets balanced as part of austerity measures. The new decree obliges Rome to take action to restore health to its finances, by reducing its payroll, privatizing council-controlled utilities or raising local taxes, and start bringing down a debt mountain. The decree gives Italian councils the option of increasing the TASI local services tax - something that Marino has ruled out. Marino says that Rome should permanently have extra funds, given the city's role as the national capital and the contribution its citizens make to central government's coffers via their taxes. "Rome has the right to have more income, like other international capitals," said Marino. "I want to be proud of our city. "Rome is not receiving a single euro from the pockets of the Italian people with this measure. It's money that comes from the pockets of the Romans and they have the right to have it back".