Italy's Renzi struggles to win support for new government

Florence mayor Matteo Renzi, poised to become Italy's youngest-ever prime minister after the ouster of Enrico Letta, ran into stumbling blocks on Sunday, Feb 16, 2014, as he tried to shore up support for a new coalition government. -- FILE PHOTO: REU
Florence mayor Matteo Renzi, poised to become Italy's youngest-ever prime minister after the ouster of Enrico Letta, ran into stumbling blocks on Sunday, Feb 16, 2014, as he tried to shore up support for a new coalition government. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

ROME (AFP) - Florence mayor Matteo Renzi, poised to become Italy's youngest-ever prime minister after the ouster of Enrico Letta, ran into stumbling blocks on Sunday as he tried to shore up support for a new coalition government.

Italian media said it was widely expected that President Giorgio Napolitano would formally ask Renzi, 39, on Monday to form a government, after holding consultations with political leaders.

But behind the scenes horse-trading with possible allies on the right and left seem to be more complicated than expected.

Alessandro Baricco, a writer and close friend of Renzi, turned down an offer to head the culture ministry, while Andrea Guerra, chief executive of Luxottica group, the world's largest eyewear company, rejected an offer to become minister for economic development, press reports said.

Finding a competent head of the key economy ministry, who is to be credible in his dealings with European Union partners and the European Central Bank, is also proving to be tough, the reports said.

"A happy ending is not guaranteed," said Angelino Alfano, leader of the New Centre-Right party, a minor partner in the outgoing coalition whose votes could prove crucial to the formation of a Renzi government.

Alfano said after meeting with Napolitano on Saturday that he would refuse to ally with Renzi if the government proved "too leftist" and would then push for early elections.

"First obstacles for Renzi, difficult negotiations with Alfano", who was deputy prime minister under Letta, the influential Corriere della Sera said on Sunday.

Alfano has also warned that the next government must change the big picture in a country that urgently needs reforms, and put an end to the economic crisis, with high unemployment and slow growth.

On Sunday Alfano upped the ante, warning that his party was "simply crucial for the formation of this government.

"If we say 'no' to the government, it cannot see the light of day," he told a rally of supporters.

Renzi "is finding out that it is more complicated to build than to destroy", La Stampa newspaper wrote.

It was referring to what Nichi Vendola, leader of the opposition Left, Ecology and Liberty party, called the "original sin" of Renzi's underhand tactics of bringing down Letta.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement has criticised Renzi's power grab as undemocratic, saying Italians should be allowed to choose through elections.

Letta stepped down on Friday after the centre-left Democratic Party approved a motion calling for a new government proposed by Renzi, an ambitious ex-Boy Scout elected to the party leadership in December.

Renzi has promised radical reforms to combat rampant unemployment, boost growth and slash the costs of Italy's weighty bureaucracy.

Opinion polls show Renzi is popular, mainly because as someone with no experience in national government or parliament he is seen as a welcome breath of fresh air in Italy's discredited political system.

But surveys also indicate that most Italians would have preferred early elections and are opposed to what critics dismissed as a "palace coup" engineered by Renzi following weeks of bitter feuding with Letta.

Investors are betting on a Renzi government pushing through key reforms, however, with stocks rising as Letta resigned and Moody's ratings agency improving its outlook for Italy from negative to stable.

Italy's economy also showed signs of emerging from a devastating recession, with a preliminary estimate on Friday showing it grew 0.1 per cent in the last quarter of 2013 - the first positive result in two years.

Renzi has been criticised in the past for being short on concrete proposals and for a brash leadership, although many Italians - including particularly younger people - like his informal, web-savvy style.

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