'Gambling on newness': Italy's youngest ever PM, Matteo Renzi, has an ambitious agenda
The 39-year-old must stablise government and push forward with economic recovery
Sunday 23 February 2014
Matteo Renzi became Italy's youngest ever prime minister, at the age of 39, yesterday as he was sworn in – but he will be under pressure to deliver on promises to create a more stable government and push forward with economic recovery.
The former Boy Scout and leader of the centre-left Democratic Party appointed an almost equally youthful cabinet, with women making up half its 16 members, the highest ever proportion.
Commentators noted that there were no big names capable of challenging the authority of the new leader, who came to power after ousting fellow Democrat Enrico Letta, to the anger of many in their party, meaning that Mr Renzi will also face the bulk of criticism if reforms are not forthcoming swiftly. While there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel following the country's worst economic crisis of the modern era, with signs of growth appearing, Mr Renzi thrust aside Mr Letta over the slow pace of economic reforms.
The swearing-in ceremony was a tense affair. Mr Letta gave Mr Renzi a limp handshake during a handover that lasted just 20 seconds. The outgoing premier did not smile at his betrayer, who forced a wan smile, and neither looked each other in the eye, the Associated Press reported.
The new environment minister, Gian Luca Galletti, told Sky TG24 TV that the blunt-speaking Mr Renzi conducted his first cabinet meeting "more like a board meeting".
The inexperience of this cabinet means that much of the responsibility will rest on the new premier, who became leader of his party only in December. He tweeted yesterday that it would be "tough" but insisted "we'll do it".
The government will have to win a vote of confidence in parliament, expected on Monday, before it starts work officially.
Italy is the third-biggest economy in the eurozone, after Germany and France, but has racked up a ¤2trn (£1.6trn) public debt as its industrial sector has crumbled. Youth unemployment stands at about 40 per cent.
"Renzi seems to be betting everything on himself, on his political energy," an editorial in La Repubblica newspaper said.
"The acrobat is on the high wire, alone and without a safety net.
"Let's hope he manages, otherwise the only thing that remains are the populist clowns."
The anti-establishment Five Star Movement, led by former comedian Beppe Grillo, is seen as a possible successor if Mr Renzi's government collapses.
"The responsibility is enormous and this must not fail," Rocco Palombella, secretary general of the UILM union, said.
The new prime minister, previously mayor of Florence, is a keen cyclist and favours jeans, a leather jacket and retro sunglasses over the sharp suits usually worn by the political elite. He is reportedly a fan of the band U2 and Italian rapper Jovanotti.
He cut taxes in Florence and is said to model himself on Tony Blair and Britain's New Labour. But his term of office in Florence divided the city, with some suggesting he talked a good game but failed to deliver.
Mr Renzi 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. The labour and tax systems and the bloated public administration are also to be reformed.
However, the unwieldy government coalition, with the small centre-right NCD party on which Mr Renzi will depend for a majority, remains unchanged from the one that backed Mr Letta.
Political commentator Mario Calabresi told La Stampa newspaper that the new prime minister was "gambling on freshness, newness and energy … [but] doubts must be raised over the government's experience and ability to have a bearing on the worst post-war economic crisis Italy has known".
For all the cabinet's youthful energy, it is its oldest member who may prove to be key. Finance minister Pier Carlo Padoan, 64, chief economist at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, was described as an "expert, with a renowned political sensibility, appreciated and valued in Europe and international forums" by Stefano Folli, of the daily business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.
"Italy's credibility will rest almost entirely on his shoulders, representing both the newness of the Renzi government but also continuity with the things that matter."
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