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Italy’s Letta launches government with call for growth


Italy’s new Prime Minister Enrico Letta pledged to push for a change to the European Union’s focus on austerity and pursue growth and jobs in an inaugural speech on Monday laying out the priorities for his coalition government.

Speaking ahead of a confidence vote in the lower house, Letta said Italy could not afford to focus simply on trying to cut its huge public debt and needed a new emphasis on lifting the economy out of recession.

He will be backed by his own center-left Democratic Party, Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right People of Freedom (PDL) party as well as centrists led by former prime minister Mario Monti, with a second vote in the Senate on Tuesday.

“We will die of fiscal consolidation alone, growth policies cannot wait any longer,” Letta said, noting that the country’s economic situation remains “serious” after more than a decade of stagnation.

However he pledged to stick to Italy’s budget commitments to its European Union partners, announcing he would visit Brussels, Paris and Berlin this week.

Financial market reaction to Letta’s appointment and the end of months of political stalemate after last February’s inconclusive election was positive, with bond yields falling and shares rising.

Italy’s cost of borrowing dropped to its lowest since October 2010 at an auction of medium and long term bonds on Monday.

But Letta, who was pushed into a coalition with Berlusconi after the center-left fell short of a viable parliamentary majority in February, now faces a battle to maintain the unity of his government while passing potentially difficult reforms.

He paid tribute to two police officers shot by an unemployed man on Sunday as his cabinet was being sworn in and called for a calmer and more responsible political climate.

Responding to Berlusconi’s demands for an unpopular housing tax to be scrapped, Letta said payments due in June would be halted prior to a wider overhaul of property taxes but he did not promise to abolish the tax altogether.

He also said he hoped an increase in sales tax, which would see the main rate rise from 21 percent to 22 percent planned for July, could be delayed.

In a speech laying out an ambitious program of reforms, Letta said the welfare system would have to be strengthened, taxes weighing on employment and young people would be cut and measures to get more women into the workforce would be passed.

He promised to change the current electoral law, which contributed heavily to the inconclusive election result in February and left Italy in political limbo for two months as the parties wrangled over forming a government.

He also said he would review the progress of reforms in 18 months’ time and if he felt that he had been blocked by other parties he would not hesitate to assume the consequences, an apparent suggestion that he would resign.


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