Italy's premier-to-be Renzi prepares for coalition talks

Ella Ide

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 eurozone's third largest economy.

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.

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 (PD) has raised hopes in a country thirsting for change after ousting ex-premier Enrico Letta -- a member of Renzi's party whom he accused of failing to live up to reform pledges.

"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," Renzi said after being given the mandate by President Giorgio Napolitano.

- 'Similar challenges' -

"The most pressing emergency, which concerns my generation and others, is the emergency of labour, of unemployment and of despair," he added.

Still, the web-savvy Renzi -- who would be Italy's youngest-ever prime minister -- has no previous experience in national government or parliament.

The first test of political prowess for the fresh-faced former Boy Scout will be the tough challenge of putting together a coalition before he can be officially sworn in by Napolitano.

The previous coalition of the PD, centrists and the New Centre-Right party is expected to remain intact -- despite fears that fresh efforts to pull Italy out of its most serious post-war economic slump risk being thwarted by a bickering coalition.

"The new prime minister will probably face similar challenges to his predecessor in building and holding together a government that can agree and enact reforms," Fitch ratings agency said in a note after Renzi's nomination.

Renzi vowed that if he succeeds, he will overhaul the job market, education and the tax system in his first few months in power.

In a parallel victory for the centre-left party, the PD won a tight race for the regional governorship of Sardinia, stealing the reins from the centre-right.

In a speech winding up his duties as mayor in Florence, the premier-to-be highlighted investment in education and Italy's neglected cultural heritage as key goals.

"Renzi brings energy, determination to reform Italy, and communication skills to Rome - as well as a democratic and popular mandate to reform," said Unicredit chief economist Erik Nielsen.

However, Renzi's power grab has sparked accusations of self-serving arrogance.

"Aiming high, bringing real change to the country, is the only way Renzi will be forgiven for the breach that brought him to power," political watcher Luca Ricolfi said in La Stampa daily.

- Time to go forwards -

A poll carried out by the Ipsos institute for Rai television and published on the eve of his nomination showed only 31 percent of those surveyed thought a Renzi government would successfully drive the country forward.

Another 26 percent thought his power grab was "useless", while 23 percent said it was "wrong" and 15 percent declared it "absurd".

However, some Italians now seem willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as long as Renzi delivers on his promises to drag Italy "out of the quagmire".

Market reactions have been favourable so far, with Italy's borrowing costs dropping to an eight-year low on Monday.

Renzi is little known internationally but sees himself in the mould of former British prime minister Tony Blair and the "New Labour" programme, and his rise is being closely-watched by centre-left parties in Europe.

Renzi's informal style is unusual in Italy's political world and his prolific use of social media has endeared him to many younger Italians.

But the past few days have also 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.

Whatever the perceived machinations behind his stellar rise, analysts say Renzi will now have to move fast to begin righting Italy's ills.

"It is now time to try, finally, to go forwards," commentator Ricolfi said.

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