December 12, 2016
ROME (AP) — Italy’s latest government was formed and rapidly sworn in Monday, a center-left coalition headed by new Premier Paolo Gentiloni and strikingly similar in makeup to the just-ended one that Matteo Renzi quit after a humiliating loss.
Economist Pier Carlo Padoan remains as finance minister of the new government, which inherits the same deteriorating banking crisis, stubbornly flat economy and other urgent problems that marked Renzi’s tenure.
The largely unchanged composition of the newly forged coalition government fueled fresh calls from opposition forces and even from within Gentiloni’s ruling Democrat party for hastened elections. Gentiloni, 62, served as Renzi’s foreign minister until the latter resigned after voters resoundingly defeated a Dec. 4 referendum on government-backed constitutional reforms.
Renzi kept his promise to quit if the referendum failed. “I won’t hide the political difficulties that derive from the referendum’s outcome and the political crisis that followed,” Gentiloni said. He also acknowledged Italy’s persistent economic malaise. “We cannot ignore the suffering, especially in the middle class and in the south were work is scarce,” Gentiloni said.
Youth employment hovers at 36 percent, down from 40, nationally, but it runs about 50 percent in the underdeveloped south. The new prime minister is a staunch backer of Renzi’s. Even before he announced his Cabinet, some observers took to dubbing it the “Renziloni” government.
Gentiloni is “Renzi’s double,” Roberto Fico, a leader of the populist 5-Star Movement, said in comments to Corriere della Sera daily. “It’s a government identical to the last one, (but) more fragile,” said Liguria Governor Giovanni Toti, from former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right opposition party.
Toti was referring to a last-minute defection by a centrist Renzi coalition ally who was angered his small party didn’t get any Cabinet posts in the new Gentiloni government. That defection risks narrowing the new government’s margin for victory in mandatory confidence votes this week in Parliament. But the squabbling Democratic Party, still led by Renzi, would still hold a majority, barring defectors from his own fold.
Gentiloni was scheduled to make a pitch for support with speeches to Parliament on Tuesday. The 5-Star Movement, founded by comic Beppe Grillo, is Parliament’s largest opposition force and eager for elections soon in a bid to gain its first premiership.
Critical of harsh austerity measures advocated by European Union leaders, they want a popular referendum on whether Italy should keep the euro as its official currency. Among the holdovers from Renzi’s Cabinet is Roberta Pinotti, who continues as defense minister.
Another is Angelino Alfano, who crossed over a few years ago from former Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right to become the leading non-Democrat in Renzi’s government. He now switches from interior minister, where he dealt with the flood of migrants across the Mediterranean to Italian shores as well as domestic anti-terrorism strategy, to foreign minister.
After seeing 64 governments in some 70 years, Italians are used to political crises. Italy’s head of state, President Sergio Mattarella, summoned Gentiloni to the Quirinal presidential palace on Sunday to ask him to try to forge a government, working with the same Democrat majority in Parliament.
By Monday night, Gentiloni was back at the palace and sworn in as premier, along with the ministers whose names he had announced only 90 minutes earlier. Italy’s politics remain roiled. Matteo Salvini, who heads the anti-migrant Northern League, said he would hit the streets of Palermo and Milan this weekend seeking signatures to “ask for elections immediately.” Later, on Facebook, Salvini slammed the minor changes in the Cabinet.
“It’s not a government. It’s a jumble of chair-holders,” he said. Former Premier Massimo D’Alema joined some others in the Democratic Party who viewed the referendum debacle as an expression of citizens’ impatience for early elections.
“I think the government has a limited assignment,” D’Alema said. But many, starting with President Mattarella, agree Italy must first urgently overhaul its election law to make the country more governable.
The current law has one set of electoral rules for the Senate and another for the lower Chamber of Deputies. That’s because voters in the recent referendum rejected changes that would have made the Senate not directly elected.
The economy is another urgent matter. Renzi’s labor reforms, on which he staked much of his prestige, barely nudged the economy to grow. The lackluster economy factors into the crisis suffered by Italy’s banking sector, burdened with non-performing loans.