Italy's Renzi in last-minute haggle over new cabinet

AFP , Friday 21 Feb 2014

Italian Prime Minister-designate Matteo Renzi talks to reporters at the end of consultations with leaders of Italian parties at the Parliament in Rome February 19, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

Italy's Matteo Renzi hopes to have the final make-up of his new cabinet by the end of Friday, but has been forced into a last-minute haggle over key posts, according to Italian media reports.

The PM-designate is reluctant to keep the same team which worked with his predecessor Enrico Letta, who was ousted by Renzi's own centre-left party for failing to implement promised reforms.

"It cannot be a Letta government mark two", the Corriere della Sera daily quoted Renzi as saying, adding that the head of the Democratic Party (PD) "is looking to the future, and is worried."

The Florence mayor has been negotiating hard with his future coalition partners to secure a fresh cabinet line-up, but agreement has stalled in particular over the role to be given to Angelino Alfano, head of the New Centre Right (NCD) party.

Alfano -- the former right-hand man of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi -- held the post of both deputy prime minister and interior minister under Letta.

He is unwilling to renounce a post in the new cabinet because of fears his small party -- a break-away from Berlusconi's Forza Italia party -- could fall by the political wayside, analysts say.

"Renzi doesn't want (Alfano) in, to show the novity of his government compared to Letta's," but the NDC is unwilling to step back "as Berlusconi is waiting in ambush," La Repubblica daily said.

Progress has also been stalled by disagreements over who should take the economy ministry portfolio, a vital post in the eurozone's third largest economy, which is struggling with near-record unemployment and widespread disillusion following a deep recession.

Italy's main business lobby on Thursday urged Renzi to form a government "really capable" of tackling the ills of a country lumbered with a public debt equivalent to 130 percent of total economic output, where hundreds of thousands of enterprises have been forced to fold.

La Stampa daily described the protracted negotiations as an "arm-wrestle between Renzi and Alfano" and said the "obstacles risk stopping the creation of the government, or weakening it, rather than building a new coalition deal."

"An executive born under duress, rather than conviction, is surely not destined a tranquil life," Stampa columnist Marcello Sorgi warned.

However, while "the coalition is in fibrillation... Matteo Renzi is sure that it is only the tensions of the last mile," La Repubblica said, adding that the prime minister-delegate should present his cabinet list to Italy's president Giorgio Napolitano later Friday.

The government is then expected to be sworn in on Saturday and voted into office by parliament on Monday.

Any delays will doubtless spark vocal reactions from critics who accuse him of putting the country's recovery at risk by grabbing power from Letta.

The former Boy Scout has already lost the confidence of many Italian voters, with 65 percent describing his abrupt ouster of Letta as a "blow to democracy", according to a poll published Wednesday in La Stampa daily.

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