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Italy’s Letta praised after Berlusconi U-turn

3rd Oct 2013

Two confidence votes won by Italy’s Prime Minister Enrico Letta have drawn praise from President Giorgio Napolitano for “standing the test.” The European Commission says Italy’s votes are “vital” for the EU as a whole.

Former premier Silvio Berlusconi was left facing ejection from Italy’s Senate in the coming weeks over a tax fraud conviction after Wednesday’s twin confidence vote victories by Prime Minister Enrico Letta in both chambers of parliament.

In an abrupt turnaround in the Senate, Berlusconi dropped his threat to withdraw his center-right party’s cabinet ministers from Letta’s broad coalition government and instead backed the five-month-old cabinet.

Berlusconi’s center-right People of Freedom Party (PDL) had been left in turmoil when more than 20 defectors signaled their preference for Letta.

Challenge ‘beaten,’ says Italy’s president

Napolitano congratulated Letta’s coalition government, saying it had “stood the test, beaten the challenge.” Napolitano added that Letta’s cabinet could not afford more political turbulence.

The vote in Italy’s upper chamber of parliament handed Letta (pictured center above) a sweeping 235 votes, with 70 against.

In the lower Chamber of Deputies, Letta secured an absolute majority with just his center-left Democratic Party (PD): 435 deputies supported Letta, with 162 against.

Defections led by ex-protege

The defections in the PDL led by former Berlusconi loyalist and current deputy prime minister Angelino Alfano (pictured right) as well as the conservative public works minister Maurizio Lupi, left the 77-year-old ex-premier isolated.

On Friday, a Senate committee is expected to approve Berlusconi’s ejection from the chamber, subject to a later plenary session vote.

A judge is also due to rule on whether Berlusconi should serve his one-year sentence for tax fraud as house arrest or community service.

‘Rule of law’ applies, says Letta

Letta, who heads an awkward coalition comprising his PD, centrists attached to former premier Mario Monti, and the PDL, dismissed appeals to grant Berlusconi judicial immunity in return for his political support.

“Under the rule of law, rulings must be enforced and are respected, Letta told the Senate, adding that he could have narrowly won the confidence vote “anyway.”

Last Saturday, Berlusconi, a billionaire media mogul, had threatened to pull his ministers from Letta’s cabinet.

In his speech before the vote, Letta said Italy needed political stability to emerge from record-length recession.

He has already pledged to meet EU deficit targets and to cut labor taxes, in part to ameliorate youth unemployment which rose above 40 percent in August.

Votes ‘decisive,’ says Barroso

From Brussels, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said the Italian Senate’s vote in favor or Letta’s government was “decisive,” not just for Italy, but for the eurozone and the European Union as a whole.

Italy would be able to continue “uninterrupted with the reforms it has embarked on,” Barroso said, adding that an “artificial political crisis” had been averted.

The outcome was cheered by markets, with Milan share index jumping 1.45 percent higher after the Senate vote and closing the day up 0.68 percent.

‘Final chapter’

A politics professor at Roma Tre university, Giacomo Marramao, said Wednesday’s twin parliamentary vote signaled a split in Berlusconi’s centre-right (PDL) party.

“I think we are seeing the final chapter of Berlusconi’s political life,” Marramao said.

Italy’s top court upheld a tax fraud conviction against Berlusconi in August, clearing the way for the Senate to expel Berlusconi over his conviction and bar him from the next elections.

ipj/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)


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