December 14, 2014 / 5:03 PM / in 3 years

Italian PM Renzi calls on factious party to unite for reforms

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi talks during a news conference in Rome July 4, 2014. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/Files

ROME (Reuters) - Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi called on his ruling party on Sunday to unite behind measures he has pledged to breathe life into the euro zone’s third-biggest economy after years in or near recession.

Renzi has staked much of his political credibility on a swathe of reforms to tackle Italy’s record-high unemployment, snail-paced justice system and unwieldy institutions, but faces opposition from within his own Democratic Party (PD).

Without support from his party members, Renzi could have more difficulty passing legislation just as he faces increased pressure to meet European Union debt and deficit targets.

PD deputy Giuseppe Civati was widely quoted as saying on Saturday that if Renzi pushed on with plans including a Jobs Act aimed at loosening restrictions on firing employees, another party would form to the left of the political spectrum.

The 39 year-old premier said on Sunday he would not be stopped by the party minority and would prefer people to read the jobs act rather than giving it an “ideological glance”.

“My dear democrats, you are not here to argue amongst yourselves, you are here to change Italy,” Matteo Renzi told his party’s national assembly in Rome. “We won’t get bogged down and gaze at our navels.”

Former PD deputy economy minister Stefano Fassina hit back at Renzi during the assembly, saying: “I‘m telling you for the umpteenth time, I will not allow you to make caricatures of people who think differently from you.”

Italy has held up its reform efforts to the European Commission to try to prove it deserves flexibility in reining in a public debt which is proportionately the second-highest in the euro zone after Greece.

Even though the final details of the labour reform have not been drawn up, a plan to weaken a treasured right to protest unfair dismissal has raised fury inside and outside parliament.

Around 40 PD deputies walked out of the lower house of parliament in protest against the jobs act in late November, and the latest of a series of union protests ended in clashes between police and demonstrators in Milan and Turin on Friday.

Italy’s economy, which has shrunk by 9 percent since 2008, is heading for its third year of contraction, and the country’s youth jobless rate is more than 40 percent.

Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Catherine Evans

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