Fate of Italian coalition hangs in balance

PD’s Matteo Renzi calls on prime minister Enrico Letta to step down

Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi leaves Chigi Palace in Rome after a meeting with Italian prime minister Enrico Letta yesterday. Photograph: Alessandro di Meo/EPA

Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi leaves Chigi Palace in Rome after a meeting with Italian prime minister Enrico Letta yesterday. Photograph: Alessandro di Meo/EPA

Wed, Feb 12, 2014, 21:32


For the umpteenth time the fate of Italy’s 10-month old coalition government led by Enrico Letta hangs in the balance. An OK Corral-style meeting of the Democratic Party (PD) may de facto remove Mr Letta from office with the party calling on him to pass the prime minister’s baton to newly elected party secretary Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence.

Clearly in a hurry to make the most of the electoral momentum that saw him win the PD primaries just before Christmas with a massive 67 per cent of the vote, Mr Renzi and his supporters may call on Mr Letta to step aside. Many in the PD believe Mr Renzi, an energetic 38-year-old, can galvanise the institutional and electoral reform programme initiated by Mr Letta.


Compromise solution
The pro-Renzi camp also feels Mr Letta is too hidebound by his ties to coalition partners who include the NCD, which broke away from media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, and the party of former prime minister Mario Monti, Civic Choice. Appointed last April at the head of a centre-right and centre-left coalition, Mr Letta was seen as a compromise solution to end the stalemate created by February’s inconclusive general election.

Essentially, Mr Letta was called on to guarantee stability, stimulate growth and, above all, introduce badly needed electoral reform.

Even when Mr Berlusconi withdrew from the coalition in November, in the wake of his expulsion from the Senate for a tax fraud conviction, Mr Letta remained in the saddle, supported by the NCD. This morning’s meeting may, however, prove Mr Letta has now lost the support not of his coalition partners but rather of his party.

For the time being, however, it would seem Mr Letta has refused to go quietly. The prime minister came out of his corner fighting last night in a press conference in which he proposed a “relaunch” of his executive.


‘Live every day as my last ’
“If there is someone who wants my place, he should say so . . . Right from the beginning there have been so many who wanted to bring me down, that I have learned to live every day as my last,” Mr Letta said.

Earlier in the day, the two men had a “frank” exchange at government house when Mr. Letta is believed to have argued that if he was to be removed from office that must be done by way of a confidence vote, either at today’s PD party meeting or in parliament.

True to his style, Mr Renzi turned up at government house driving his own Smart car rather than in a state car.

If Mr Renzi succeeds Mr Letta, he will become the youngest ever Italian prime minister. What is more, for the third time in three years Italy will find itself with a prime minister for whom no one voted, following the examples of Mario Monti and Mr Letta himself, both essentially “created” by state president Giorgio Napolitano.