Italy’s Matteo Renzi was nominated to be the European Union’s youngest prime minister on Monday and immediately outlined an ambitious reform plan, promising “energy, enthusiasm and commitment” to revitalise the euro zone’s third largest economy.
The 39-year-old mayor of Florence said his first priority would be to tackle relentless unemployment levels and pitiful economic growth, promising Italians he would do everything possible to alleviate “despair”.
The head of the leftist Democratic Party has raised hopes in a country thirsting for change after ousting ex-premier Enrico Letta – a member of his own party whom he accused of failing to live up to reform pledges.
Renzi said he would begin formal coalition talks on Tuesday and predicted they would take “a few days” as he negotiates to form a stable government that can survive until the next scheduled elections in 2018.
“We will take the time we need, with the knowledge that there is a sense of urgency out there and this is an extremely delicate and important time,” he said after being given the mandate by President Giorgio Napolitano.
‘Emergency of despair’
“The most pressing emergency, which concerns my generation and others, is the emergency of labour, of unemployment and of despair,” he added.
In the first test of his political prowess, the fresh-faced former Boy Scout will face a tough challenge in securing support, before facing a decisive confidence vote in parliament later this week.
The previous coalition of the Democratic Party, the centrists and the New Centre-Right party is expected to remain intact – even though the leader of the latter, Angelino Alfano, has warned this is “not a given”.
Renzi vowed that if he succeeds, he will implement much-needed political and electoral reforms by the end of this month and overhaul the job market, education and the tax system in his first few months in power.
His nomination has left some analysts wondering whether he has the political maturity to succeed.
“Speed is part of Renzi’s personality” but “the creation of such a team is no easy task”, political watcher Federico Geremicca said in La Stampa.
The web-savvy Renzi – who would be Italy’s youngest-ever prime minister – has no previous experience in national government or parliament and is seen by many as having the right outsider credentials for the job.
But his critics warn he risks failing to pull together a credible coalition cabinet or burning out rapidly.
Risk of instability
Many Italians seem willing to give him the benefit of the doubt even though they would have preferred early elections, as long as Renzi delivers on his promises to combat rampant unemployment and boost growth.
Market reactions have been favourable so far – with Italy’s borrowing costs dropping to an eight-year low on Monday – though analysts warned the difficulties in ruling over a testy coalition government remain.
“There is maybe room for reforms even though the political obstacles are the same,” said Credit Agricole CIB economist Frederik Ducrozet.
Credit Mutuel-CIC agreed, saying “investors are reacting positively to this switch of government but the risk of a period of instability and of new elections cannot be overlooked.”
Renzi’s on-the-ground local achievements like lowering some taxes, boosting recycling and encouraging innovation are seen as positive but analysts say he will now have to prove himself on a much bigger scale.
He is little known internationally but sees himself in the mould of former British prime minister Tony Blair and his “New Labour” programme and his rise is being closely-watched by centre-left parties in Europe.
His informal style is unusual in Italy’s political world and his prolific use of social media and knack for catchphrases have endeared him to many younger Italians turned off by an ageing political elite.
But the past few days have cast Renzi in a darker light.
Following his election to the party leadership in December, Renzi had ruled out unseating Letta but did just that on Thursday, when he tabled a motion to senior party members calling for a new government.
The motion was approved with a crushing majority in what appeared to be a stage-managed event that came a day after Letta defiantly vowed not resign and accused his rival of engineering a “palace coup” against him.