Enrico Letta

Can Renzi break Italian deadlock?
In Italy, the government of Enrico Letta has fallen and the country is set to have its youngest Prime Minister ever. Matteo Renzi promises to be a radical reformer. In this week’s podcast Guy Dinmore, Rachel Sanderson and Ferdinando Giugliano join Gideon Rachman to discuss whether Mr Renzi can break the political and economic deadlock that seems to be paralysing the country and what the stakes are for Europe

Ferdinando Giugliano

(OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Whenever any centre-left leader comes to power in Europe, there are always questions over who he or she will be compared to. Take François Hollande: only days after his election to the Elysée, commentators were already wondering whether he might be France’s Gerhard Schröder. The hope was that he could reform France’s labour market from the left, just as the former chancellor did in Germany in the early 2000s.

Matteo Renzi, who is set to become Italy’s youngest ever prime minister, is bound to draw such comparisons. When Time magazine chose to feature the then 34-year old mayor of Florence on its front page in February 2009, the US weekly asked whether he might be Italy’s Barack Obama. In an interview to the Italian daily Il Foglio, Mr Renzi compared himself to Tony Blair, saying he wanted to transform the Italian left just as Britain’s three-times prime minister did with the Labour party. The media-savvy Mr Blair certainly remembered Mr Renzi’s aspirations when he called on Europe’s leaders to “get fully behind” Italy’s new leader. Read more

Tony Barber

(Getty)

According to the old saying, if you knew how a sausage was made, you’d never eat one. It is no easier on the stomach to watch the political intrigues that lie behind the formation of Italian governments.

A new government is on its way in Rome because Matteo Renzi, leader of the centre-left Democratic party, has decided to pull the plug on Enrico Letta’s premiership. It is difficult to see who other than the youthful, super-ambitious Renzi will replace Letta.

For Italy’s eurozone partners, this is a fateful moment. If Renzi, as prime minister, fails to deliver the reforms that European policy makers know are essential to keeping Italy in the eurozone, the likelihood that some other Italian politician will do so are exceedingly small.

But Renzi’s very public political assassination of Letta, his party comrade, was a kind of theatrical “stab in the front” that may one day return to haunt him. For if these are the methods he deems suitable to clear his path to national office, it is reasonable to assume that they will sooner or later be used against him. Read more

  • Enrico Letta, the Italian prime minister, is fighting for survival and faces calls for a handover of power to “demolition man” Matteo Renzi
  • Jabhat al-Nusra is now one of the most effective and dangerous groups battling the Assad regime. The FT looks at how the al-Qaeda affiliated jihadis have won popular support despite their hardline stance
  • While countries in southern Europe are beset by youth unemployment, German companies are desperately trying to hold on to older workers
  • A Sudanese tycoon talks to the FT about doing business against a backdrop of sanctions and crises
  • Iran has become a hub for IVF treatment in the Middle East and would-be parents are trying to reconcile their treatment with Islamic law

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Tony Barber

(OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

An optimist would draw much inspiration from Matteo Renzi’s convincing victory in Sunday’s primary elections for the leadership of Italy’s ruling centre-left Democratic party (PD). Doesn’t the success of the 38-year-old Florence mayor prove that a new generation of vigorous, reform-minded politicians is, at long last, replacing the squabbling, incompetent and sometimes corrupt oldsters who have presided over the nation’s decline over the past 20 years? Read more

By Catherine Contiguglia
♦ Italy’s government often gets dismissed as being a mess, but Enrico Letta has made some notable achievements, writes Chris Hanretty, a lecturer in politics at UEA. However, the next 100 days will present some challenges, including the backlash from Silvio Berlusconi’s tax fraud conviction, and electoral and tax system reforms.
The staging of walkouts across the fast food industry is not about young entry-level workers wanting more money to pay for the movies on Friday – it is about the failure of the US economy to create reasonable middle-class jobs for older and more educated workers who now depend on low wage jobs to support their families.
♦ “Mugabe will leave power when he wants to – or when his body gives out,” writes Richard Dowden in his analysis of Robert Mugabe’s victory Zimbabwe elections, which he says is partly explained by rigged elections, but also mistrust of his opponent, and the sentiment that it is better not to “upset the Big Man.”
♦ Vladimir Putin is launching an amnesty program to release some of the 110,000 people imprisoned under his leadership for “economic crimes” – such as allegedly violating the copyright on leopard print – so that they can help him figure out how to turn around the languishing economy.
♦ The corruption and nepotism that surrounds China’s political elite gets a lot of press – but in the shadows of the spotlight looms a far more widespread system of families that dominate the villages and towns throughout the vast countryside. Read more

Ferdinando Giugliano

Berlusconi at a rally (Getty)

Will he or won’t he? Since a court in Milan on Monday sentenced Silvio Berlusconi to seven years in prison on charges of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of office, Rome-watchers have wondered whether this ruling will have consequences for the Italian government led by Enrico Letta. Mr Berlusconi’s People of Liberty is one of the three parties backing the cabinet, alongside the centre-left Democrats and the centrist formation, Civic Choice.

Mr Letta and Mr Berlusconi met on Tuesday to discuss the road ahead for the coalition. Top of the agenda was the government’s economic policy and, in particular, how to spare Italians of a rise in VAT, which is planned for July 1st but which Mr Berlusconi wanted to avoid at all cost. It is hard to imagine, however, that in their three-hour long meeting, Mr Letta and his predecessor did not discuss the consequences of the ruling in Milan.

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Ferdinando Giugliano

Fabrizio Saccomanni

It takes a little more than 15 minutes to cover the mile-long distance that separates the Bank of Italy from the ministry of the economy and finance in central Rome. But the upper echelons of the two institutions dominating the commanding heights of Italy’s economy have traditionally been closely linked by a revolving door. Read more

(DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty)Austerity appears to be an increasingly dirty word in Europe. The past week alone has seen European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Bill Gross of Pimco and Italy’s new prime minister Enrico Letta calling for an easing of austerity.

Spain’s surpassing of the 6m unemployed mark on Thursday added fuel to the debate. But even in Germany, the austerity police of the eurozone, cracks are beginning to show ahead of the elections with the emergence of an anti-euro party.

a) Are there any austerians left? Yes. Here are some of them.

- UK: Chancellor George Osborne hit back at criticism over his apparent excessive austerity by claiming there is no other alternative. And after a tough week when he was criticised by the IMF over the excessive pace of his austerity programme, this week has brought better fortunes for his stance as figures showed a lower deficit and the economy expanded 0.3 per cent in the first quarter.

- Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s view as articulated this week couldn’t be clearer: “I call it balancing the budget. Everyone else is using this term austerity. That makes it sound like something truly evil.” Germany is the only eurozone country with a 2012 budget surplus.

- US: The situation here is different because of sequestration, which triggered automatic spending cuts and tax rises. And the White House faces a July deadline to raise the borrowing limit or default on its debt.

- Latvia: The tiny Baltic state is emerging from a state of uber austerity – part of its bid to join the euro later this year – and it could end up being seen as a poster child for successful deficit cutting implementation, with real growth of more than 5 per cent in 2011 and 2012, despite the broader recession in Europe.

- Spain: The push by Europe’s fourth-largest economy to cut spending and raise taxes has led to record unemployment topping 6m for the first time in its recent history. The government of Mariano Rajoy announced economic reforms and structural measures on Friday.

- Italy: The technocrat government of Mario Monti has been steadfast in carrying out fiscal consolidation. All eyes will be on Mr Letta, who has already said: “Europe’s policy of austerity is no longer sufficient”. Read more

Prospects for a new Italian government
The political chaos in Rome seems to be about to come to an end as the bickering parties prepare to form a broad coalition government led by Enrico Letta of the centre-left Democrats. Will the coalition be able to rise to the challenges facing Italy, including an economy now entering its eighth consecutive quarter of contraction. Ferdinando Giugliano, FT leader writer, and Guy Dinmore, Rome correspondent, join Ben Hall to discuss.