Monday 23 September 2019

Italian PM pledges new reforms and EU harmony

Vow: Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he will boost the economy. Photo: Getty Images
Vow: Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he will boost the economy. Photo: Getty Images

Giuseppe Fonte

Italy's prime minister said yesterday his new coalition combining the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the pro-Europe Democratic Party (PD) would avoid rows and rancour and usher in a new wave of reforms.

In a speech to parliament before a vote of confidence in his administration, Giuseppe Conte called for smoother relations with the European Union, saying he would work with Brussels to rewrite the bloc's budget rules and its immigration laws.

The PD and 5-Star agreed to join forces under Mr Conte's leadership after the far-right League walked out of the previous, argumentative coalition with 5-Star in a failed effort to trigger early elections.

"We want to put behind us the din of useless declarations and belligerent, bombastic statements," Mr Conte, a law professor with no political affiliation, told an often rowdy lower house.

"The language of this government will be mild-mannered," he added, in a clear swipe at the League's outspoken leader, Matteo Salvini.

His 90-minute speech was regularly interrupted by chants of "Elections! Elections!" from League politicians, while outside the lower house, hundreds of far-right supporters staged a noisy demonstration to demand a snap poll.

"They can run away from the vote for a few months, but they can't run away for ever, and when Italians get to vote we will win," Mr Salvini told the cheering crowd.

Some of those present gave stiff-armed fascist salutes.

Mr Conte laid out a wide-ranging policy programme, promising expansionary measures to boost the stagnant economy, pledging to head off a big Vat increase set to kick in on January 1 and warning that tax cheats in future would face prison terms.

He also said that his government, Italy's 67th since World War II, would forge ahead with legislation to cut the number of parliamentarians and introduce a new electoral law - a fourth stab at rewriting voting rules since 2005.

Mr Conte's first government took office in June 2018, but soon got bogged down in rows over everything from infrastructure projects to immigration, and from EU relations to autonomy for Italy's wealthy north.

Mr Salvini boosted his popularity with an uncompromising crackdown on boat migrants from north Africa, refusing to let charity rescue ships dock in Italy.

Mr Conte said he would look to devise a new policy with Brussels of sharing migrant arrivals around the European Union.

He also promised a more constructive partnership in trying to revise EU banking norms and loosening budget restraints.

Irish Independent

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