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20 January 2014

FT: Italy's centre-left approves sweeping political reforms

Matteo Renzi, leader of Italy's centre-left Democratic party, has laid out his plan for sweeping reforms of the electoral system and constitution aimed at ending political instability and weak governments.

Mr Renzi won a landslide victory in primaries for the party leadership last month and is seeking to push through political and economic reforms before making his own bid to succeed Enrico Letta, the party’s former deputy leader, as prime minister. But Mr Renzi stressed that the lengthy parliamentary procedures needed to approve the reforms demonstrated that he had no hidden intention of bringing down Mr Letta’s coalition before its stated objective of holding elections in 2015.

While Mr Renzi’s hand was strengthened by the party’s adoption of his proposals – with no votes cast against – Mr Letta’s government still needs the support of its junior coalition parties, including centrists and centre-right politicians who broke with Mr Berlusconi last year, to ensure stability.

Under Mr Renzi’s proposal, the two chambers of the Italian parliament would no longer hold equal powers, and a new electoral law would be introduced – with higher thresholds required to enter parliament and the awarding of bonus seats to the winning party or coalition, in order to ensure a solid parliamentary majority.

Other constitutional changes would strengthen the powers of the central government in certain sectors, including energy, tourism and transport where policies set in Rome are often blocked by regional and local authorities. Such changes require a long process of two readings in parliament and Mr Renzi set a target of passing the first approval in the senate by May.

Although Mr Renzi has the backing of his own party, he has less sway over many of its more leftwing MPs elected last February and could still face a battle in parliament. Mr Renzi’s imposition of his newfound authority as party leader is also seen as undermining Mr Letta, with commentators saying their relationship has reached a low. The prime minister did not attend the party leadership meeting on Monday and has made little comment on the proposals.

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© Financial Times

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