Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called for a “radical and immediate change” in recession-hit Italy as he outlined his new government’s programme before winning a vote of confidence in the Senate early on Tuesday.
In an energetic and impassioned speech to parliament that was light on detail, the new prime minister said there were no excuses for failing to tackle the country’s ills.
He told senators Italy would become a “country of opportunity” and later won the vote of confidence, with 169 votes in favour and 139 against, according to Senate speaker Pietro Grasso.
“If we lose this challenge the fault will be mine alone. No-one has an alibi anymore,” said the 39-year-old – Italy’s youngest ever prime minister.
“This is an Italy of possibilities, an Italy of fundamental change,” he said, stressing the “urgency” of implementing reforms in “a rusty country ... gripped by anxiety”.
Renzi, who grasped power after helping oust his predecessor Enrico Letta over failures to do enough to boost a flagging economy, reiterated plans for rapidly overhauling the tax system, job market and public administration.
Telling the personal stories of specific individuals – including a jobless father and a man killed by a reckless driver – he pledged to review unemployment benefits, establish a guarantee fund for small companies and comprehensively reform the justice system.
He also promised to cut the tax burden by a double-digit figure within months and pay off public administration debts.
The initial reaction from investors appeared positive, with Milan’s FTSE stock market closing up 0.48 per cent after Renzi’s speech.
But small business association Confartigianato wondered where the prime minister hoped to find the money for the reforms, with its head Giorgio Merletti saying “a couple of quick sums show that there is 100 billion euros (HK$1.1 trillion) to find immediately”.
The former mayor of Florence had been expected to win the confidence vote based on the support of his own centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and his coalition partners – the centrists and the New Centre Right (NCD) party.
Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (FI) party is in opposition, although it has agreed to support key decrees on a case by case basis.
Party members seemed less than enthused by the government programme.
“It couldn’t get any worse than this. I hope for Italy’s sake that Renzi is better than he seems,” said Maurizio Gasparri, an FI senator, while FI deputy Daniele Capezzone said there were “no desirable objectives, just a worrying vagueness”.
The anti-establishment Five Star movement – Italy’s other main opposition party – has slammed Renzi for stealing the top job and called for immediate elections, and some political watchers say Renzi’s failure could significantly boost their numbers.
The movement’s senator Paola Taverna slammed “the posturing, the little smiles, the arrogance in front of a country which wanted to hear a speech of change”.
A bold-faced Renzi stared down critics hollering insults from among the movement’s benches and spoke out against populism and for Europe.
He said Italy must tackle its towering public debt – equivalent to 130 per cent of total economic output – not because German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for it, but because “it is our duty to, for our children’s sake”.
He spoke of the need for greater transparency – making public spending receipts available online – and of the need to attract foreign investors and shake off the image of Italy “as just a great holiday destination”.
Renzi’s insistence on speed has impressed some analysts, who say it may help him avoid getting stifled under the weight of Italian bureaucracy.
“By keeping up the momentum, Renzi is increasing the chances of these important reforms going through despite likely resistance from various camps,” Christian Schulz, senior economist at Berenberg, said in a note.
But Chiara Corsa and Loredana Federico from Unicredit asked “whether the Renzi government is strong enough or sufficiently ‘revolutionary’ to implement the reform agenda”.