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Challenges face Italy after Berlusconi's Senate ouster

'No excuses left, we want reforms' says center-left rising star

28 November, 17:11
Challenges face Italy after Berlusconi's Senate ouster (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, November 28 - Supporters of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi were "in mourning" Thursday, the day after the Senate voted to eject him, while a rising star in the rival center left said his ouster now left no excuses for the coalition government to move slowly with promised reforms. "Coup d'état" was the headline in Il Giornale, owned by the billionaire media magnate's brother Paolo. "I'm coming back soon," was the headline in right-wing daily Libero, which featured a rendering of the three-time premier's political foes shooting at a cardboard cutout of him, only to reveal the real Berlusconi was smiling and unscathed. The right-leaning Il Foglio daily, which is edited by Berlusconi's close friend Giuliano Ferrara, called the Senate vote a "political assassination", recalling Berlusconi's call Wednesday to "mourn the death of freedom and democracy". His ejection from parliament kicked in following the supreme Cassation Court's four-year sentence for tax fraud at his Mediaset group in August. The sentence was commuted to one year for an amnesty, and Berlusconi has requested to perform community service in that time. Berlusconi, who is embroiled in several other legal cases, says he fears allegedly leftist prosecutors will now take advantage of his loss of parliamentary immunity from arrest.

In the meantime however he says that won't keep him from leading his resurrected center-right Forza Italia (FI) from outside parliament, in opposition to the left-right government he supported until earlier this week. On Tuesday, FI confirmed its switch from government to opposition by voting against the government's 2014 budget bill in the Senate. Now with Berlusconi's departure from both the coalition and parliament, centre-left Democratic Party (PD) leader-in-waiting Matteo Renzi said Thursday that nothing should hold back PD members in the government, led by Premier Enrico Letta, from pushing for quicker reforms and bigger growth-stoking moves.

The Florence mayor, expected to become leader of the PD in a December 8 primary, said the government could "change tack" since it was no longer subject to constant sniping from the ex-premier.

If the PD does not see a change of pace and direction, Renzi said it should pull the plug on its coalition with a conservative rump, the New Centre Right (NCD), that split with FI because of Berlusconi's threat to sink Letta after the PD insisted on applying an anti-corruption law for the media magnate's ouster.

"The grand-coalition government is over after Forza Italia's exit and Berlusconi's expulsion," Renzi told the Corriere della Sera daily.

"So this government can't keep on pretending everything has stayed the same. We have to change tack. We must finally do the things Italy needs".

Renzi said since the coalition with Berlusconi's now-defunct People of Freedom (PdL) party was formed to end a two-month post-election impasse in April, "the PD has been very prudent, patient and responsible.

"Ok, we were the good guys. But now it's time to get things done and we will make our voice heard".

Now that the PD was senior government partner by a much bigger margin, Renzi said, it must "implement its ideas...otherwise it will be the end".

To create jobs in Italy's longest recession in 20 years, "we must remove the obstacles to firms," he said.

Red tape must be slashed, "fiscal oppression removed" and Italy's snail-paced justice system, which slows business and discourages foreign investment, has to be streamlined and accelerated.

The 2014 budget, now going through parliament, does not meet these needs, said the Florence mayor, whose charisma and centrist appeal has invited comparisons to former British prime minister Tony Blair, as well as to Berlusconi. NCD leader Angelino Alfano, who was Berlusconi's long-time protege' and seeming heir-apparent before he broke with his patron, appealed to Renzi not to bring down the government "and make Italians pay the price".

He said the NCD would shortly agree a new deal on a faster reform agenda including a new electoral law - another of Renzi's top demands - to replace the one widely blamed for February's inconclusive result.

The NCD, which voted against Berlusconi's expulsion, is also pressing for justice reforms.

Polls say the combined appeal of FI and the NCD, who are expected to run together at the next election, is bigger than the PdL's was.

The centre right has nudged ahead of the PD-led centre left in recent polls.