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Renzi cabinet approves Senate reform bill

Premier dismisses criticism, says Italy at 'great turning point'

31 March, 20:30
Renzi cabinet approves Senate reform bill (ANSA) - Rome, March 31 - Premier Matteo Renzi's cabinet on Monday unanimously approved a contentious bill to change the Constitution to reform the Senate, reduce the number of lawmakers, and scrap Italy's provincial governments.

Renzi said the bill, which includes stripping the Senate of its lawmaking powers, was "a great turning point for the political world and the institutions". "I don't know if there will be a happy ending, but this is just the start," added Renzi, who has said he will quit politics if he is unable to push through reform of the Senate as part of a drive to make Italy easier and cheaper to govern.

"No more delays".

The reform bill, which transforms the Senate into a leaner assembly of local-government representatives, scraps provincial administrations, and takes back some powers from overspending regional governments, could still take a year to work its way through parliament. It could also save government as much as one billion euros, Renzi added, increasing its potential value.

Still, it has already faced opposition, including criticism from Senate Speaker Pietro Grasso who said Monday that he "reserved the right" to express his opposition to the reforms.

Grasso, the former head of Italy's National Anti-Mafia Directorate, was quickly rebuked by Renzi who said the Senate Speaker should not abuse his position.

"If Grasso spoke as (head) of the Senate, he made a mistake," said Renzi.

In response, Grasso said he felt "calm, serene" that his personal opinions would not colour his work.

Renzi also responded to critics including Beppe Grillo, leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), saying Grillo is "eating his heart out" because he is losing political ground to the premier since Renzi's ideas and actions are more appealing to the voters.

"Grillo is one who has had the greatest (political) success talking about renewal, but now that he sees (efforts) towards renewal, he feels crumble the earth crumbling under his feet," Renzi said in an interview with TG 24 television. Meanwhile, Renzi also said that it was "fundamental" that the first reading of his government's Constitutional reform bill be completed before the European parliamentary elections on May 25. Renzi is also pressing ahead with a controversial labour-reform decree that is moving through the Lower House and will likely face a vote in mid-April.

As well, on Monday ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi told Renzi to be "coherent" and accelerate on a deal for a new election law if he wants the centre-right leader to respect other agreements for institutional reform.