(By Christopher Livesay) Rome, June 12 - A group of experts met in Rome Thursday for the first time to start hashing out reforms of the Italian Constitution in order to streamline government and avoid parliamentary gridlock. "The great thing (about the group) is that it represents...a unique opportunity that is not being squandered," said Premier Enrico Letta at the start of the meeting. He added that the group of 35 Constitutional experts would have "full autonomy" in devising their recommendations. "I'm here today merely to launch the race," he said. The experts will compare their findings with a panel of 40 parliamentarians with the goal of framing reforms within an 18-month deadline. "A final report should be ready by October 15 and then handed over to parliament," said Constitutional Reforms Minister Gaetano Quagliariello. "We must do it without delay". A bill laying out the procedures will have completed its first reading in parliament by the end of July, the government says. Reforms will include a new electoral law, cutting the number of MPs and stripping the Senate of its equal status to the Lower House. Law-making tends to move slowly in Italy because the Senate has the same powers as the House, meaning legislation must pass through both bodies. Another mooted reform is to change the way the Italian president is elected. Currently he is voted in by parliament. There is a groundswell on the right for changing this to let the Italian people choose him, as in France and the United States, but this is opposed by many on the left. Any changes to the Constitution require a two-thirds majority in both chambers. If they do not get this, they are subject to a popular referendum, which can abrogate the reform. Finally, and perhaps most important, the expert advisors will tackle election reform - a delicate issue for Letta's government. In the run-up to February elections, both the center left and center right waffled on passing reforms. The vote ultimately produced a virtual three-way tie between Letta's center-left Democratic Party (PD), ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party, and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) of comedian Beppe Grillo. The result led to a two-month parliamentary logjam brought to an end in April when the PD and the PdL were forced into a fragile alliance, which many predict could crumble at any moment.