President and pope urge Italy's politicians to tackle crisis

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 14, 2013 12:00 PM
President and pope urge Italy's politicians to tackle crisis

By Naomi O'Leary

ROME (Reuters) - Italian President Giorgio Napolitano warned on Thursday of a "poisoned and unstable" climate in Italy as he joined Pope Francis in urging an end to deadlock in efforts to resolve the most serious economic crisis since World War Two.

Napolitano's stark tones and the pope's own call for harmony and renewed efforts to resolve the crisis underlined concern at the incapacity of Italy's political class to deal with its deep-seated economic problems.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta's unwieldy coalition of left and right has struggled to agree on meaningful reforms, with even passage of next year's budget held up by bickering over thousands of amendments tabled in parliament.

Italy is "riven by exasperated divisions in a poisoned and unstable political climate", Napolitano said, lamenting the "difficult times, dominated by intense pressures amid the gravity of the country's problems".

Data on Thursday showed Italy had entered its third year of recession after a decade of stagnation, with youth unemployment at a record high of over 40 percent.

But tensions between the center-right and center-left partners in government have hampered attempts to reform an economy now smaller than it was in 2001, and have raised fears the government could fall apart by spring.

The 88-year-old Napolitano is seen as the guarantor of the awkward government of traditional rivals since he forced Letta's Democratic Party and Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom to rule together to end a stalemate after a split election result left no party able to govern alone.

On his first official visit to Napolitano's palace on the Quirinale hill in Rome, Francis, who is head of the tiny Vatican state, said Italy needed to find the creativity to come together and find a common solution to its manifold problems.

Recalling suffering he had seen on parish visits and the immigration emergency at the island of Lampedusa, site of a shipwreck that killed over 360 migrants last month, Francis returned to the theme which has defined his papacy, the need to help the poor.

"It is necessary to multiply efforts to alleviate the consequences and to seize and build on every sign of recovery," Francis said, calling the highest level of unemployment on record one of the crisis' "most painful effects".

Francis became bishop of Rome in March after a fortnight in which the city had neither a government nor a sitting pope due to the post-election stalemate and the shock resignation of his predecessor Benedict.

(Editing by Andrew Roche)