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Renzi pushes back against wave of criticism

'We're just getting started, Italy can be changed' says premier

07 March, 20:00
Renzi pushes back against wave of criticism (ANSA) - Rome, March 7 - Italian Premier Matteo Renzi on Friday spoke out against a wave of criticism that has hit his fledgling government, calling it "ridiculous". "I don't understand on what grounds they're attacking us since we haven't really started yet," he told Italian daily La Stampa. Renzi, whose government was sworn in less than a month ago, said confidence in the government was "growing" despite criticism over electoral-law reform, State finances and some undersecretaries with legal problems. He said he was "ready to talk with anyone" over four undersecretaries he has defended despite their being under investigation on allegations ranging from embezzlement to fiddling expenses. On the EU's criticism of serious imbalances in the economy and risks to fiscal consolidation, he said former economy minister Fabrizio Saccomanni "told us about it, so I don't understand the attacks".

Responding to the criticism later in the day, Renzi tweeted that "Italy can be changed, but the mindset of those living with their prejudices can't". The new government's credibility is on the line over a reform that would see the Senate transformed into a leaner assembly of local-government representatives stripped of law-making powers. Renzi is hopeful the new election law will be passed in the Lower House quickly and then win definitive approval in the Senate shortly after. Its passage in the House suffered a small setback this week when a vote was postponed to next week, slowing down the 39-year-old premier's fast pace. Reforming the Senate is expected to take much longer - over a year as it requires amending the Constitution, which is a far more lengthy process. In the interview, Renzi also said "we will start seeing results" when more details will be revealed on a planned labour reform after a council of ministers scheduled next Wednesday. Renzi said last week that reducing Italy's unemployment rate must be his government's first priority after the latest figures showed that unemployment in January hit a record 12.9%. Youth unemployment also rose to 42.4% in January, the highest since 1977, according to a preliminary estimate released last week by national statistics bureau Istat.

New polls on Friday also reflected waning support for Renzi, the leader of the center-left Democratic Party, who is seen to represent the party's more moderate members. After a surge in confidence last week in his government, a new survey published by polling institute Ixe' showed that trust in the premier has dropped over the past week to 55%, down seven percentage points. Confidence in the government also dropped to 50%, down six points on last week's 56%, according to the survey carried out on behalf of Agora', a program of State broadcaster Rai. But the data also said he remains the country's most popular politician on the national scene. President Giorgio Napolitano ranked second behind the premier at 42% as a trustworthy leader indicated by the 1,000 people polled by Ixe', followed by ex-premier Enrico Letta at 40%.

Support for the leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, Beppe Grillo, dropped by four points to 27% while confidence in three-time ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi dropped 1% to 21%. Confidence in New Center Right (NCD) leader Angelino Alfano went down four points to 20%.