Will Matteo Renzi achieve anything as Italy’s prime minister?

The 39-year-old has made a whirlwind start, but has already met with resistance

Italy’s prime minister Matteo Renzi will be concerned by the tremors running through Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga /Getty Images

Italy’s prime minister Matteo Renzi will be concerned by the tremors running through Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga /Getty Images

Tue, Apr 8, 2014, 01:00

He has made a whirlwind start, but will he actually achieve anything? Italy’s prime minister Matteo Renzi, the new kid on the European block, has spent his first six weeks in office getting to know the world’s shakers and makers, from US President Barack Obama to Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel to Pope Francis.

Thus far, he has been well received. Obama admired his “ambition, energy and vision” during a visit to Rome two weeks ago, adding that they were good not just for Italy but also for Europe. At Downing Street last week, UK prime minister David Cameron quipped: “Is it just me? Or are prime ministers getting younger all the time?”

Even Pope Francis told young Flemish Catholics last week, a day after a Vatican audience with 39-year-old Renzi, that the emergence of a number of “young politicians” had “changed the music” and represented a real sign of hope.

Just this week, in a clear sign of “music changing”, the Renzi government sold six ministerial “blue cars” on eBay for €57,000. Thus far, Renzi has been good not only via such gestures but also when it comes to soundbites. Italy needs to get its house in order, he has said 100 times, not because the EU tells it to do so but “for our children”.

Trade union criticism
Faced with trade union criticism of his labour reforms, he says he is concerned “about those kids who cannot find a job, not about trade union leaders”.

So, all hunky dory, then? Well, not quite. In the gerontocratic world of sclerotic Italian politics, a young prime minister was always going to be well received, at home and abroad. Yet, the question remains: is he actually delivering any real change or are his “reforms” not already deeply flawed?

Time will tell. Not surprisingly, though, he has already met with resistance. Critics say that his abolition of provincial governments has, rather than reducing the numbers of civil servants, actually increased them by approximately 30,000. Leftist economists say his draft “Jobs Act” will simply produce more short-term contracts, fewer working days per year and lower salaries.

Constitutionalists question the legitimacy of an electoral reform package that basically decrees that a 37 per cent vote represents 340 deputies (thanks to a majority “premium”) while an outright 51 per cent of votes (in a run-off second vote) entitles a party or coalition to only 327 deputies.

The legal boffins also have reservations about his proposed senate reform. They argue that it is all very well to make the new senate an “unelected” regional chamber but, in that case, then the House ought to have absolutely no legislative powers or role, something which it partially retains in the Renzi reform.


Abolition
Others wonder just how many senators, all of them on a basic salary of €12,000 per month plus various perks, will vote for their own abolition.

Perhaps more worrying for Renzi than all that, though, are the tremors running through Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. With the media tycoon nervously awaiting a Thursday judicial ruling that might impose a year long “house arrest” on him for his Mediaset tax fraud, Forza Italia has been threatening to renege on its original agreement to support Renzi’s reform packages.

It is worth remembering that the Renzi government is a complex, right-left cross-party coalition. It remains to be seen if, without Berlusconi, it still has the numbers. In short, the road ahead is rising.

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