Newspaper article International New York Times

Renzi Outlines Early Priorities for Italy ; at Ease in First Address before Senate as Premier, He Vows to Act Boldly

Newspaper article International New York Times

Renzi Outlines Early Priorities for Italy ; at Ease in First Address before Senate as Premier, He Vows to Act Boldly

Article excerpt

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called for lawmakers to have the "courage" to make "radical change," and promised bold measures to revive the economy.

Making his first appearance before Parliament since becoming prime minister, Matteo Renzi on Monday called for lawmakers to have the "courage" to make "radical change," pledged to push through political and electoral reforms, and promised bold, innovative measures to revive the moribund economy.

Mr. Renzi, 39, the youngest prime minister in Italy's history, spoke for roughly an hour before the Senate, which was expected to hold -- and approve -- a confidence vote on his new government later on Monday evening. A second confidence vote is scheduled Tuesday in the lower house, where Mr. Renzi's Democratic Party holds a comfortable majority and passage is considered a certainty.

For Mr. Renzi, the former mayor of Florence who was sworn in Saturday after forcing out a sitting prime minister from his own party, Monday's speech was his first formal presentation of his early priorities. It also provided a taste of his jaunty, confident style. He seemed to relish verbally jousting with lawmakers of the opposition Five Star Movement and gave no hint of being awed by a chamber in which he has never served.

"Our country is rusty, bogged down," he said, "immobilized by an asphyxiating bureaucracy, by rules, norms and codicils that paradoxically don't eliminate illegality." He argued that the desires and ambitions of ordinary Italians had surpassed the performance of Parliament. "It is ahead of us, and it is up to us to catch up," he added.

Focusing foremost on the economy, Mr. Renzi outlined four immediate priorities: repayment of unpaid government debts to private firms by using a state investment and loan fund; support for small and medium enterprises squeezed by the credit crunch; reductions in income and labor taxes; and a comprehensive reform of the justice system, including changes to make doing business easier.

He also pushed for passage of a sweeping electoral reform package that he has already brokered with Silvio Berlusconi, the opposition leader and former prime minister. That package would change Italy's complex voting system to favor bigger parties and coalitions and better produce working parliamentary majorities. Mr. Renzi also is pushing to amend the Constitution to drastically reduce the powers of the Senate so that lawmaking authority is concentrated in the lower house.

"I'd like to be the last prime minister to ask this chamber for a vote of confidence," he said.

Perhaps that goal is one reason the assembled senators only occasionally broke into meaningful applause. Marco Damilano, a political commentator for the weekly magazine L'Espresso, said that Mr. Renzi deliberately emphasized his role as an outsider to the political circles of Rome and that the radical changes he promised were the same things he has been talking about when he politicked nationally while serving as mayor of Florence. …

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