Rome

Letta to bond with cabinet at Tuscan abbey 'retreat'

'Get to know each other, plan' PM says

Letta to bond with cabinet at Tuscan abbey 'retreat'

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, May 7 - Big companies abroad have taken staff out into the wild and made them shoot paint-balls at each other to build team spirit. Others have got them to combine their efforts in mock TV-style quiz shows. More recently, team-building activities have included chariot racing, flash mobbing, human vs zombies face-offs, sumo wrestling and even blindfold driving. New Italian Premier Enrico Letta prefers a more conventional approach, in this deeply religious country. He is set to use the very Italian power of spiritual seclusion to help forge his disparate cabinet into a closely knit unit. Letta, who was sworn in at the helm of an unprecedented left-right coalition government nine days ago, hopes a day thrown together in a Tuscan abbey will loosen knots and strengthen bonds in an executive spanning his own centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) Party, long foes until Italy's post-election stalemate forced them to become strange bedfellows. The cabinet ranges from such Berlusconi diehards as Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, Constitutional Reform Minister Gaetano Quagliariello and Infrastructure Minister Maurizio Lupi, all lawyers, to PD new faces like Sports Minister and former Olympic kayak champion Josefa Idem, Education Minister and high-flying scientist Maria Chiara Carrozza and Italy's first black minister, Congo-born Integration chief and doctor Cecile Kyenge. There are even more widely diverging characters among the junior ministers and undersecretaries, including one who was switched from equal opportunities to civil service after anti-gay comments, but Letta stressed the upcoming huddle was ministers only. "Sunday and Monday 24-hour retreat in an abbey in Tuscany, just ministers," he tweeted. "To plan, get to know each other, bond. Everyone pays for themselves". The ministers will be breaking down barriers and building bridges at 11th century Spineto Abbey near Siena, where Letta, a practising Catholic and former Christian Democrat youth leader, has already spent retreats and where cross-party seminars have been staged. Education Minister Carrozza, a bio-engineering lecturer at Pisa's prestigious Sant'Anna university, was all for it. "An abbey, great. We'll get a bit of rest and boost our spirits," she said. A retreat in Italy is not just spiritual, however. Serie A teams often go into 24-year retreats at their training bases before games and the Italian idiom Letta used for 'bond' was to "forge the locker room". Italy coach Cesare Prandelli backed the idea. "I've always liked Letta and I like him even more now," the Azzurri chief said of Letta, a five-a-side soccer player in his spare time who supports Berlusconi's glittering AC Milan. "Choosing a method used by coaches is a smart move. "I'm thrilled politics is using sporting logic to shape up. "Let's hope it works, it's an interesting precedent," said the Tuscan coach, who has made no secret of his admiration for PD rising star and mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi. The retreat idea reportedly came from the political leader of one of Italy's fiercest traditional soccer rivals, Germany. "It was Frau Merkel who suggested it to Letta," political sources said. "She told him it would be a great way of making different mindsets meld when they talked in Berlin last week".

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