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Italian premier Renzi riding high....or so he thinks PDF Print E-mail
Apr 20, 2014 at 09:12 PM

Premier Matteo Renzi
Italy's brash, young premier, Matteo Renzi, is chanting victory after his left-of-center cabinet on Friday agreed to ratify his promised massive tax cut that would provide a $110 a month bonus for Italian middle class families. The move is designed to show Italians that he can get things done while calling for sacrifices from those "who have always had more" and helping those who have always had less and - perhaps - to guarantee his Democratic Party a good showing in the May 25th elections for the European Parliament.

After 58 days in office, the energy and zeal of the former mayor of Florence are undeniable and impressive. But it is hard to say now whether he will be successful, or even how successful one really wants him to be. I myself have still not forgiven him for the heartless and conniving way in which, at the beginning of the year, he elbowed predecessor Enrico Letta, his party colleague, out of the way although he had promised not to do so. Renzi is the third Italian premier in a row to come to power without having won a national election.

Image The youngest premier ever in Italian history, Renzi's major, short-term objective is to put through a series of institutional reforms, including a new electoral law, that will make Italy easier to govern but, at the same time will - in the longer-term - help his party in the next general election (2018, if things proceed smoothly) while curtailing the further success of the upstart and, to my mind, possibly dangerous Five Star Movement. In February, 2013, the M5S won 26% of the vote to become the third largest party after the PD and Berlusconi's Freedom Party, now called Forza Italia.

Unfortunately, the young premier has chosen to do this by working together on these reforms with Berlusconi, despite the fact that the latter is a convicted felon (see story on Berlusconi's recent sentencing) detested by most Italians who think of themselves at more or less leftist in orientation. Renzi, who comes from the post-ideological period of Italian politics, would claim this is simply realpolitik, given Berlusconi's ongoing influence. But unless I miss my guess he will suffer at the polls for it, unless he does something to make people, especially the young and political-committed, to forget it.

Meanwhile, the 10-billion euro income-tax cut which will affect 10 million Italians earning between 8,000 and 26,000 Euros a year, and which is designed provide some relief for families hurt by the country's ongoing economic crisis, could give his government an immediate boost in the polls. It is part of a decree law (one which later must receive parliamentary approval) that, also as promised, set a salary cap of 240,000 Euros, around $331,000 for top government officials and appointees at state-run enterprises and agencies.

Renzi, 39 and the youngest premier ever in Italy's 150 years of history, has set out not only to deal with Italy's ongoing economic crisis (and thus the decree includes a 10% reduction in a hated Irap regional business tax and the release of eight billion Euros towards payment of 68 billion Euros the state still owes to businesses for supplies and services) but to show that unlike his predecessors he will do more than give lip service to the idea of cutting waste.

The cabinet decree also includes measures to reduce government office space (and the rents paid for such) and to sharply reduce (finally) the number of official, chauffeured government cars, known as "auto blu" currently in use. The premier said the number of limos would be limited in the future to a mere five cars per ministry, and everyone else "can take the bus or walk". Instead, about 400 million Euros will be saved from trimming the defence ministry, including 150 million from a review of the F-35 fighter-jet program. Other sources will include a new tax on banks that should bring in an estimated 1.4 billion Euros.


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