Italy's Renzi ratchets up pressure on PM Letta over reforms

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 12, 2014 11:39 AM
Italy's Renzi ratchets up pressure on PM Letta over reforms

By Steve Scherer

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's center-left leader Matteo Renzi said the next two weeks will be "decisive" for Prime Minister Enrico Letta's government, which has so far struggled to make incisive reforms.

The government is supported by a broad left-right coalition. But since the 39-year-old Renzi was elected last month to lead the Democratic Party (PD) - Letta's own party - he has frequently criticized the government's choices and called for it to accelerate institutional and economic reforms.

Italy, one of the world's biggest government debtors, has narrowly avoided being dragged into the euro zone debt crisis.

"It amazes me that in Rome they don't understand the need to hurry" with the reforms, Renzi said in an interview with daily Corriere della Sera. A spokesman confirmed the comments. "The next 15 days will be decisive."

Italy is the euro zone's third-biggest economy but its output has not grown since mid-2011. With youth unemployment at more than 40 percent and the overall jobless rate at record highs, Italians have taken to the streets to protest against the government several times in the past month.

While Renzi, who is not a member of the government, said elections in 2014 "are not the solution," he confirmed Italian media reports of growing tensions with Letta. The two met face-to-face on Friday to discuss reforms.

"Enrico doesn't trust me," Renzi said. "But he is wrong. I'm very honest about things."

Letta heads a compromise government put together after last year's national election yielded no clear winner, and government action has often been blocked by a crossfire of vetoes from the two sides of his bloc.

A new election law is a key reform that has long been stuck in limbo and whose failings produced last year's deadlock.

Renzi says a new voting law can be agreed by the end of the month, while Letta has said one should be in place by the end of April, perhaps afraid that passing it sooner could trigger an early vote.

The opposition and even a group of PD mayors close to Renzi have been calling for early elections to be held together with European parliament voting in May, but so far Renzi has stuck to Letta's timetable of next year.

Though Renzi and Letta have repeatedly said a cabinet reshuffle this year is not planned, in an interview broadcast by SkyTG24 on Sunday, Regional Affairs Minister Graziano Delrio, who is close to Renzi, acknowledged that one is possible.

Italian media reported on Sunday that ministers who risk being replaced include Economy Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni, Labour Minister Enrico Giovannini, Justice Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri and Agriculture Minister Nunzia De Girolamo.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)