Rome

Letta wins left-right plaudits with maiden speech

'Revolutionise' tax system, stop IMU from June

Letta wins left-right plaudits with maiden speech

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, April 29 - Premier Enrico Letta won plaudits from both parts of his unprecedented left-right coalition with his maiden speech to parliament Monday, asking for the confidence of the House. Letta, 46, Italy's third-youngest premier, earned applause from his own centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party with a pledge to focus on stoking growth and creating jobs, especially for the young, after more than a year of austerity which has deepened the recession and pushed unemployment to new heights. He pleased the PD, in particular, with a vow to change the widely criticised electoral law that helped produce a hung parliament in February, while turning the Senate into a regional assembly so a majority in the House is sufficient to govern. And he addressed a hobby-horse of the PdL in saying that taxes, including an unpopular property levy called IMU, would be rejigged. Other parts of his speech that appealed to both sides were vows to abolish double wages for ministers, do away with expensive and superfluous provincial administrations, avoid a VAT hike this year and find funds to help laid-off workers and people left without jobs or pensions by a controversial reform introduced at the height of the euro crisis by Mario Monti's previous government. The PD and PdL also lauded plans to give benefits to large and needy families, fight corruption, "revolutionise" party funding which has spawned scandals across the political spectrum, and cut taxes on forms and workers without raising spending. He also said he would meet both parties' demands to get the European Union to ease budget restrictions to allow for pump-priming measures. Letta's pledge to stop payments of IMU from June was "music to our ears" said PdL secretary Angelino Alfano, deputy premier and interior minister. The outgoing leader of the PD, Pier Luigi Bersani, hailed Letta's platform as "the right one to tackle the enormous problems facing the country". Letta also raised cross-party morale by comparing his new right-left government to the biblical figure of David "in front of the Goliath of giant challenges". He encouraged politicians to strip themselves of their "swords and amour" weighing them down. "We need courage and faith to shed political caution," Letta said. Letta told the parties supporting his broad coalition to focus on the job at hand and not their many differences. Letta, acting leader of the PD after Bersani's resignation, was sworn in as premier on Sunday after reaching a deal to end Italy's two-month post-election deadlock with the PdL and the Monti's Civic Choice group. It is an unprecedented, and many would argue unnatural, grand coalition and the government may be short-lived. "I'd like to highlight the difference between politics, as in a dialectic, and policies, as in concrete solutions to concrete problems," Letta told the House. "If we concentrate on politics, the differences will immobilize us. If we concentrate on policies, we will do a service to the country by improving citizens' lives. "We win or we lose together". The speech did not please everyone, however. Members of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), which sees the PD and PdL as discredited protagonists of a corrupt and dysfunctional system, hurled insults at Letta and his newly formed government. M5S MP Andrea Colletti accused Letta's left-right coalition of being "a stroke of paint (covering) an irreparably moldy wall". Colletti attacked Letta's choice of Alfano as interior minister, calling it "mafia negotiations and a gag to the judicial system". "It is all a family plot," Colletti said, referring to Letta's relation to his uncle Gianni, a former newspaper editor and TV host who has been Berlusconi's longtime chief of staff. Letta is expected to easily win the confidence of the House Thursday evening before earning a narrower win in the Senate Tuesday. But he warned that he would not stay at the helm of government unless he saw real movement on reforms. "I will quit if I don't see sufficient action in the next 18 months," he said.

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