Matteo Renzi was sworn in as the newest, and youngest ever, prime minister of Italy on Saturday. The 39 year old is also considered to be one of the least experienced prime ministers in the country’s history.
The swearing-in ceremony took place in the presidential palace in Rome, as the new prime minister and his cabinet, save for one member still in Australia on official business, took the oath of office with President Giorgio Napolitano presiding.
Renzi ousted the previous prime minister Enrico Letta, who led the third largest economic power in Europe for just 10 months. In a vote at a party meeting on 13 February, Renzi becomes the third prime minister in succession to be appointed without winning an election. The Italian constitution allows for this transfer of power, but not having a voter mandate is considered a liability, especially in light of the tough reforms most agree must be on his agenda.
The bitterness remaining after the lost battle for party leadership was apparent in the handover ceremony which lasted only seconds. A stone-faced Letta offered scarcely a handshake before exiting the prime minister’s office for possibly the last time.
Renzi’s cabinet choice has been controversial, not only because half of them are woman, but also because the 16 member body is, like the new prime minister, so young. On average 48 years old, and like the prime minister, also the youngest government in the history of the country.
Renzi made a name for himself as the mayor of Florence. He has, however, never been elected to parliamentary position or served in any capacity for a national government.
BBC reports indicate that the prime minister will be judged predominately on whether he can reinvigorate the sagging economy. The country is struggling with very high unemployment – close to 13 percent overall and near 40 percent for youth – and a public debt approaching 130 percent of gross domestic product.
Renzi has made what some consider over reaching promises, an over haul of the job market, taxes, and the education system with four months, which is only made more difficult by his need to manage the awkward coalition that has allowed him to gain power.
The centre-left Matteo Renzi is the youngest italian sworn in as prime minister of a country whose citizens are increasingly frustrated with the penalties of a deep recession, and the long trail of broken political promises from former prime ministers.
As he announced his cabinet, Renzi remarked, “It is a government that will start to work from tomorrow morning.” Il Sole 24 Ore a financial daily in the region, commented, “Italians are waiting for reforms, not just pretty smiles.”
Other editorials observed even-handedly that Renzi is betting everything on his own political energies, but others were not so kind. La Repubblica described his cabinet choice as, “a boiled chicken soup which disappoints even the most lukewarm expectations.”
Renzi’s new government will have their program outlines put to the test on Monday with a vote of confidence in parliament, before any work is officially started. It will then be revealed if the newly sworn-in Matteo Renzi, the youngest prime minister in Italy’s history, and his government can make a soup with enough salt to satisfy a nation hungry for something better.
By Brian Ryer