Centre-left leader Renzi takes over as Italy prime minister

February 23, 2014 - 6:46:01 am
ROME: Italian centre-left leader Matteo Renzi took office yesterday as his country’s youngest prime minister, facing pressure to show immediate results after he forced out his predecessor over the slow pace of economic reforms.

The 39-year-old Renzi has named a low-profile list of ministers with a mix of politicians and technocrats which included no figures capable of challenging his control of the government. Its success or failure will therefore be seen as his responsibility alone.

With an average age under 48, the 16-member cabinet is one of the smallest and youngest in recent Italian history. Half its members are women, the highest proportion ever, underlining the image of a fresh start on which Renzi has built his reputation.

But he faces a huge challenge with the eurozone’s third largest economy struggling to emerge from its worst slump since World War Two, weighed down by a two trillion euro ($2.75 trillion) public debt and an industrial base that has crumbled over the past decade. Business and union leaders have repeatedly warned that the government must take urgent action to save Italy’s ailing industry with tens of thousands of companies going out of business and millions put out of work.

“The responsibility is enormous and this must not fail,” said Rocco Palombella, secretary general of the UILM union, which represents workers in the engineering sector. “If it does, there will be no appeal,” he said in a statement.

Renzi, who won the leadership of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) only in December, forced his party rival Enrico Letta to resign last week after repeatedly attacking him for not moving more quickly on economic reforms.

The new prime minister has laid out an ambitious agenda for his first months in office, promising a sweeping overhaul of the electoral and constitutional system to give Italy more stable governments in future and reforms to the labour and tax systems as well as the bloated public administration.

However, the unwieldy coalition with the small centre-right NCD party on which he will depend for a majority remains unchanged from the one which hampered Letta’s efforts at reform and he faces a fractious parliament which has proved difficult for past governments to control.

The newly installed cabinet met for the first time on Saturday and Renzi is expected to go before the Senate tomorrow for the first of two parliamentary confidence votes next week where he will give more detail on his policy programme.