Italy's new premier faces opposition to look-alike cabinet

AP News
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Posted: Dec 13, 2016 12:23 PM
Italy's new premier faces opposition to look-alike cabinet

ROME (AP) — Italy's new premier urged Parliament on Tuesday to back his new government following the humiliating resignation of his predecessor but faced growing anger that his cabinet remained essentially the same.

Premier Paolo Gentiloni outlined his government's priorities in the lower Chamber of Deputies ahead of a confidence vote later Tuesday, listing new electoral rules, economic growth in Italy's underdeveloped south and rebuilding Italy's earthquake-devastated towns as top agenda items.

The chamber was nearly empty, however, as opposition lawmakers from the anti-EU Northern League and the populist 5-Star Movement stayed away to protest Gentiloni's "photocopied" Cabinet. Opposition politicians say his cabinet choices ignore the results of the Dec. 4 referendum in which Italians overwhelmingly rejected former Premier Matteo Renzi and his reforms.

The opposition is particularly irked that Renzi's reforms minister, who had promised to leave if the referendum failed, was named an undersecretary in Gentiloni's office.

"Italians said 'no,' but it doesn't seem to matter!" Giorgia Meloni, of the opposition Italy Brothers party, told Gentiloni during the parliamentary debate. "I am ashamed for you."

Gentiloni defended Renzi's term and insisted that his Democratic Party was doing the responsible thing by quickly forming a government that could lead Italy until a new election. He said he was taking a "political risk" by doing so, but that the constitution requires the party with a parliamentary majority to try to form a government.

He acknowledged the difficulties ahead, saying his talks with lawmakers showed the "impossibility of a general convergence." But he said he hoped that on individual items, opposition forces could find common ground with the majority.

Addressing Italy's banking crisis, Gentiloni said the government was ready to intervene to "guarantee" banks and Italians' savings. And he said the government would help lawmakers draft a new electoral law that harmonizes the rules between both houses of Parliament.

Opposition parties have clamored for an early election following Renzi's drubbing at the polls, but the current law has one set of rules for the Senate and another for the lower Chamber of Deputies.

The lower chamber was to cast its confidence vote late Tuesday, while the Senate was expected to vote Wednesday. The aim is to have a government in place before Gentiloni heads to Brussels on Thursday for a European Council summit.

That meeting is just one of several international appointments on Italy's agenda in 2017 that Gentiloni, the former foreign minister, listed to reinforce the need to have a stable government in place.

Italy on Jan. 1 takes up a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and in May hosts the Group of Seven. In March, it will host a summit to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, one of the founding treaties of the European Union.

Many of Renzi's ministers kept their jobs in the cabinet that was sworn in Monday: Finance Minister Carlo Padoan, Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti as well as the ministers of justice, health, infrastructure and culture. Angelino Alfano shifted from being interior minister to foreign minister.

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This version corrects Gentiloni's title to premier, not premier-elect.