Editorial: Letta's appointment is a small step forward in Italy

The new Prime Minster must turn immediately to economic reform

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It hardly needed Sunday’s shooting outside the Rome residence of the incoming Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, to reveal the extent to which Italians are sick of the corrupt and ineffective political class. The jobless gunman came to Rome to shoot lawmakers – when he could not find any, he fired at the police instead.

Senseless and immoral as such actions may be, the attack has nonetheless turned the spotlight on to the spiralling unemployment and poverty in Italy – and added to the sense that the political establishment is to blame.

Certainly, the new national unity government that was sworn in on Sunday morning and endorsed by a parliamentary confidence vote on Monday night, will be aware that reviving Italy’s sclerotic economy is a top priority.

After the inconclusive general election, the head of state, Giorgio Napolitano, broke two months of parliamentary gridlock by appointing Mr Letta, a moderate centre-left figure, to lead an unlikely group of centre-left, conservative and technocrat figures, to the vital task.

The question now, of course, is what so politically disparate a cabinet can hope to achieve. Mr Letta is pinning his hopes on job-creation schemes and less austerity. And criticism of spending cuts from Silvio Berlusconi – who may not be in government, but is still pulling strings – suggests that here, at least, the new leader might not face too much discord. His other key task will be to reform the voting system which so conspicuously failed to deliver a strong government two months ago.

Mr Letta’s political skills are much talked of. He will need them if he is to achieve even these basic goals before inevitable tensions between the left and the right take Italy back to the polls. A quarter of the electorate voted for Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement in February. Obstructive in coalition talks, the party has been cut out by the latest grand bargain. But unless Mr Letta et al can prove that they are not just more of the same, Mr Grillo may not remain on the bench for long.

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