Rome

Napolitano warns parties over reform 'calculations'

President says credibility at stake over institutional revamp

Napolitano warns parties over reform 'calculations'

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, June 13 - President Giorgio Napolitano on Thursday warned Italy's political parties not to make "petty calculations" when it comes to reforms deemed necessary to make the country easier to govern. Premier Enrico Letta's left-right administration has set itself an 18-month deadline to push through the reforms, including a new electoral law, cuts to the number of MPs and stripping the Senate of its equal status to the Lower House. The government has also named a group of 30 Constitutional experts who will help a panel of 40 parliamentarians draft the reforms, which will be voted on in parliament. But there are concerns that institutional changes may get bogged down by bickering among parties. "The government should work serenely. Parliament should do its bit serenely and with far-sightedness," Napolitano said in a speech at a conference of Italy's prefects. "The political parties should not descend into convulsive, petty calculations of convenience of any kind. Our country's credibility is at stake". On Thursday a vote to give the bill setting up the panel of 40 lawmakers urgent status so that it passes more quickly was approved in the Senate, even though Renato Schifani, the Upper House whip of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, said it was "inopportune". The PdL, whose support Letta needs to keep his government afloat, voted in favour nevertheless. Schifani also said setting an 18-month deadline for the reform process smacked of being a vote of "no confidence" in parliament. A new election law is seen as necessary to replace the much-criticised current one that failed to produce a clear winner in February's general election. The aim is also to change the current parliamentary set-up in which all laws must be approved by both the House and Senate, seen by many as being one of the major sources of dysfunction for Italy's institutions. Letta's government, which is based on a fragile, unsteady alliance between his centre-left Democratic Party and the PdL, aims to keep the Lower House as the main law-making chamber of parliament, while turning the Senate into an assembly of Italian regions. The PdL and the PD have expressed major differences over the election law. The PdL has said it only wants to amend the current law while the PD wants a completely new one to come into force. On Thursday Napolitano stressed the parties should reform themselves as well as the country's institutions. Public disaffection with the political class, which has failed to fix recession-hit Italy's economic woes and has been hit by a long series of corruption scandals, helped the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement capture around a quarter of the vote in February's general election. This disenchantment was also seen in poor levels of voter turnout, by Italian standards, at the national vote in February and in a recent round of local elections. "The institutional renovation cannot be separated from the political renovation," the head of State said. "And this latter element must feature a moral renewal that the expansion of the ancient plague of corruption in political and administrative life imposes". Napolitano also bemoaned the fact that plans for so-called fiscal federalism to give local and regional governments greater power in handling their finances had been put on ice.

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