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Renzi says Italy must emerge from EU 'subjugation'

Warns of 'spread' between citizens' wishes and European actions

18 March, 20:23
Renzi says Italy must emerge from EU 'subjugation' (By Sandra Cordon and Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, March 18 - Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said Tuesday that Italy must free itself from psychological "subjugation" by the rest of Europe.

"We have to get out from the subjection in Europe," he said at a book presentation following meetings on Monday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "Let's stop with this provincial attitude".

Renzi's meetings with Merkel were judged to be a success, with Italy's fledgling government receiving a powerful vote of confidence from the German chancellor, who praised Renzi's "courage" in making significant structural changes in Italy's economy. During the first bilateral meeting between the two since Renzi was made premier last month, Merkel, the head of Europe's largest economy, said she looked at "all aspects" of Italy's reforms, adding she was impressed and wished Renzi "a lot of luck". Still, Renzi has been striking an independent tone and after Monday's meetings, said Italy's reforms were designed for Italians and not to win approval from other EU states.

"Italy must stop thinking reforms have to be done because Brussels or Berlin or other capitals ask us. We'll do them because they're right for us," Renzi said Monday. He continued that tone Tuesday, warning that the European Union itself must become relevant to its citizens or risk losing their confidence and become irrelevant.

"Either the EU faces the political challenge and invokes policies that return dignity to the (EU's) role, or we lose," he said.

Invoking the economic language of interest-rate spreads between countries that measure investor confidence, Renzi said there is a "spread" between the expectations of citizens and their relationship with European institutions.

The evidence of that gap is seen in public opinion surveys that suggest a "tsunami" has blown between the public and EU bodies said Renzi, who is calling on EU to focus more on growth and job creation after years of austerity in response to the eurozone debt crisis.

Italy's youngest-ever premier, who unseated his Democratic Party (PD) colleague Enrico Letta last month, added that the country was not last in line in Europe in terms of economic strength and could change the whole EU if it changes itself.

The 39-year-old said the PD had to "outline the type of Europe we imagine" to defeat populist parties such as the Northern League and comedian-cum-politician Beppe Grillo's 5-Star Movement (M5S). The centre-left leader added that the government had to be willing to tackle taboos as it sought to usher in institutional reforms to make Italy cheaper and easier to govern.

A plan Renzi agreed with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of the centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party, for a new election law to replace the dysfunctional old system that was declared unconstitutional in December is being examined by the Senate after clearing the Lower House.

He also has an agreement with Berlusconi to transform the Senate into a leaner assembly of local-government representatives stripped of law-making powers to make passing legislation easier and help reduce the massive cost of the country's political apparatus.

His executive also wants to change Article V of the Constitution to scrap Italy's provincial administrations and take back some powers from the country's regional governments, many of which are guilty of overspending.

"Italy needs to show our (international) partners that we are getting serious about reforms, that we'll pass them in a set period of time, without letting the parliamentary term elapse, that that we have the courage to question taboos that have not been touched for 30 years," he said.