Letta's govt in for another confidence test

Obstruction expected, opposition parties blast move

Letta's govt in for another confidence test

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, July 23 - Premier Enrico Letta's fragile left-right government is in for another major test after it announced Tuesday it was putting its 'to do' decree of urgent moves to help revive the recession-hit Italian economy to a confidence vote in the Lower House. Relations with Parliament Minister Dario Franceschini said a confidence vote was necessary to speed the measure through parliament after hundreds of amendments were presented. As a decree, the legislation is already law but it needs to be ratified within two months of being passed by the cabinet to stay in effect. The confidence vote will take place at 11:30 Italian time on Wednesday. Letta's executive, which us made up of Letta's centre-right Democratic Party (PD) and ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party, will collapse if it fails to win the confidence vote. The PD and the PdL were long-standing bitter rivals until they decided to work together to form a government in April after two months of deadlock following February's general election. "Parliament has a complicated schedule before the summer recess," said Franceschini. "If we tackle a vote with 800 amendments to the decree, we won't have time to do everything". The decree frees up around three billion euros for public works projects this year, which should create 30,000 temporary construction jobs. The measure also cuts energy bills by a total of 550 million euros, in part by slashing a tax to finance renewable energy initiatives. Opposition parties blasted the decision to put the decree to a confidence vote. Ciccio Ferrara of the left-wing SEL party said the government was making this move to impose discipline and "hide the cracks" in the governing coalition. Riccardo Fraccaro, an MP for the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), said the confidence vote was the "umpteenth slap against parliament" as it limits debate of the legislation. M5S leader Beppe Grillo called Letta "Captain Findus" and accused him of wanting a "government dictatorship". Last month Letta's administration passed its first confidence-vote test in parliament when a decree on environmental emergencies was overwhelming approved by the Lower House. Letta also considered as a confidence vote Friday's rejection by the Senate of a no-confidence motion in Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano over the controversial expulsion of the wife and daughter of a Kazakh dissident. Alfano is the PdL secretary and Berlusconi's party would probably have pulled the plug on the government if the motion had been approved. The government is also threatened by differences over policy between the PD and the PdL and there is a danger that Berlusconi's party will sink the government if Italy's supreme Court of Cassation upholds a four-year fraud sentence against the ex-premier. Letta, meanwhile vowed on Tuesday that his government would press ahead with another bill facing a tough passage through parliament - his plan to phase out public funding for political parties. "We won't take steps back on the abolition of public financing of parties," Letta said via his Twitter account, @EnricoLetta, after over 150 amendments were presented to the bill. "The bill we presented is a good reform. Why block it?". If the bill is approved, party funding will be reduced to 60% of its current level in the first year, 50% in the second year 50% and 40% in the third year before being abolished altogether. The issue of party funding is high up on the political agenda in part thanks to the M5S, which won about a quarter of the vote in February's elections and refuses to accept public financing of any kind. Comedian-turned-politician Grillo tapped into widespread public disenchantment as he berated the misuse of public money following a series of corruption scandals involving parties across the political spectrum. The M5S called the government's bill a "moral victory" but also dubbed it a "scam law" for a mechanism it contains that enables people to donate a small slice of their taxes to parties. As part of this, an individual taxpayer's money will be split among parties automatically unless the person explicitly declares on their tax return that it should not go to a political party. As the bill stands, the money would be divided proportionally among all parties.

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