Letta admits holding govt together is 'huge effort'

Country needs 'political stability' to stoke growth

Letta admits holding govt together is 'huge effort'

(By Kate Carlisle) Rome, September 13 - Holding together his precariously cobbled left-right coalition is proving to be a herculean feat, Italian Premier Enrico Letta said on Friday. In the face of threats stemming from ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's recent tax-fraud conviction, Letta said he was making a "huge effort" to keep the government together. "It's not true we aren't doing anything, we're making a huge effort to keep this government on its feet," he said. Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party is threatening to pull the plug on the spliced-together administration if Letta's Democratic Party (PD) votes to eject the ex-premier from the Senate by applying a new anti-corruption law the PdL says is against the Constitution. However, it is precisely now, just as forecasts say Italy may be pulling out of its longest recession in two decades, that political stability is needed to solidify recovery, Letta argued. European Economic and Financial Commissioner Olli Rehn said Friday that political stability was "essential" to ensure the return of GDP growth. Italy needs credibility on the international financial markets to be able to pay down its huge public debt, the biggest in the eurozone after Greece's, Letta said. "To pay our debts we have to be credible because no one will buy our debt if we aren't," Letta said amid uncertainty over his government's future that has driven up borrowing costs. Letta called the public debt "the No. 1 problem of the country, a nightmare that is eating our future as we try to solve today's problems with our children's money". Italy's sovereign debt of over two trillion euros is around 130% of gross domestic product and has made investors wary since the onset of the euro crisis. A Senate panel vote next Wednesday on a report related to the question of whether or not to strip Berlusconi of his seat in the Upper House because of his tax-fraud conviction could trip up forward steps by Letta's government so far. The PdL says it will scupper its government alliance with Letta's PD if the PD panel members vote to implement an anti-corruption law approved by both parties last year, thus enforcing the ban. But the PdL claims the law is being applied retroactively, and therefore against the Italian Constitution, in Berlusconi's case. Letta said he was confident that the vote would not sink the government. "I am serene, sure that good sense will prevail," said Letta. Letta said he would "work with determination" to prevent "Italy harming itself" by a government crisis he has said would cost the country more than a billion euros in higher borrowing costs. Meanwhile, Italians' confidence in their broad coalition government has increased by four points from last week to 29%, according to the latest SWG poll released on Friday. Confidence in Letta gained 1% to 41%, and general levels of confidence in Italian leaders grew with Matteo Renzi of the Democratic Party (PD) party reaching the top level of 51%. The poll was drawn up for Agorà Estate and was first published on state broadcaster Rai. Should political instability cause the Italian government to collapse, 40% of Italians and 54% of PD electors said they thought Letta needed to step aside and back Renzi, currently the mayor of the Tuscan city of Florence and who is set to run for the party leadership in recent months. Only 21% of Italians and 35% of PD-backers said they were favourable to a new Letta cabinet. In terms of leadership backing, approval ratings for anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (MS5) leader Beppe Grillo rose three points to 24%, the same level as ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, who saw a 1% gain in support.

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