Renzi says reforms are Italy’s ‘last chance’ of recovery

Italian prime minister has promised much but delivered little, writes Paddy Agnew, in Rome

Italy's prime minister Matteo Renzi has called his government's 1,000-day reform package Italy's "last chance" to combat its chronic economic decline.

Speaking in parliament on Tuesday, Mr Renzi outlined many of the dramatic challenges facing both his government and Italy, saying: "The 1,000 days are the last chance to make up for wasted time... I am willing to lose popularity to carry out reforms... the seriousness of our approach is based on the strong belief that by the end of these 1,000 days, we will have not only turned around this legislature but we will also have put Italy back on track."

The prime minister told parliamentarians that they should get used to the idea that the current legislature will run its full course through to February 2018. This was not because he was “frightened” by the idea of an early general election but, because it would require fundamental reforms over the next three years, such as labour market and electoral reform, to “overturn the [Italian] economic crisis”.

In a speech in which he promised a series of reforms relative not only to electoral legislation but also to the justice system, to education, to taxation, to civil rights and to state broadcaster RAI, Mr. Renzi struck a familiar tone, saying that at the end of the 1,000 days “Italy will refind its role, Italy will start to be Italy again”.


Mr Renzi's defiant tone recalled his recent reaction to a front page cartoon in business weekly, The Economist. Under the caption of "That Sinking Feeling", Mr Renzi is seen standing in a clearly sinking "euro" paper boat, behind French president Francois Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel, whilst European Central Bank governor, Mario Draghi, desperately tries to bail out the boat. By way of contribution to the "sinking", Mr Renzi holds tight to an ice cream.

Undeterred by that apparent criticism, the prime minister summoned the media cameras to the courtyard of government house, Palazzo Chigi, to be filmed eating a delicous-looking ice cream by way of defiant response. This was typical of the media-savvy Mr Renzi even if, on this occasion, his publicity stunt probably won him more criticism than praise.

Indeed, seven months after he ousted his party colleague, Enrico Letta, in a palace coup, critics are beginning to ask just how and when will Mr Renzi's undoubted talent for the catchy soundbite, for the intriguing tweet and for flowing, populist rhetoric, develop into effective government.

Confirmation of Italy’s current difficulties came this week from the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development, which on Monday forecast that the Italian economy would shrink for the third consecutive year. The OECD forecast a -0.4 per cent growth rate for Italy, leaving it as the only G7 country in the negative. Yet last April, Mr Renzi, hoping to benefit from an apparent Italian economic recovery, had forecast growth of 0.8 per cent.

Thus far, he has promised much but delivered little, especially by way of economic infrastructural reform, prompting the former European Commission president José Manuel Barroso to tell the recent Cernobbio economics seminar that “so far we have had a lot of announcements but few facts” from Mr Renzi. Worse still, there are those who feel that his intended reforms – of the Senate, the judiciary and the electoral system – form part of an authoritarian coup that is intended to provide, not so much good government, as government in the hands of a few.

More than 260,000 people have signed an online protest run by opposition daily, Il Fatto Quotidiano, against his Senate and electoral reform as currently envisaged. In parliament yesterday, Mr Renzi argued that electoral reform was essential to getting Italy "back on track", claiming that the current electoral legislation represented "the incapacity of the political class".

Mr Renzi failed to add, however, that the said legislation, known as the Porcellum, was introduced by his current partner in all-party reforms, centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi, the man with whom he reached a secret agreeement within days of taking over the centre-left Democratic Party last winter. With the economy still stagnant, youth unemployment at over 40 per cent, with transport workers, teachers and even police threatening to strike, Mr Renzi's road to reform is rising against him all the way.