August 30, 2015 / 10:56 AM / 3 years ago

Italy's Renzi brushes off concerns over Senate reform drive

ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s government has sufficient backing in parliament to force through its contested reform of the Senate, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Sunday, dismissing suggestions he might have to seek early elections.

Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi attends a joint news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem July 22, 2015. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

The reform, which would turn Italy’s second chamber into a non-elected assembly with only a limited say on legislation, is due to be debated in the Senate next month, where the opposition has lined up more than 500,000 amendments.

A vocal minority within Renzi’s own Democratic Party (PD) have also raised objections, leading some politicians to predict that the legislation will fail, prompting a return to the polls more than two years ahead of schedule.

Asked if this was a possibility, Renzi told Corriere della Sera newspaper: “I don’t see any risk.”

The prime minister has said in the past that the fate of his coalition government is linked to the reform, arguing that it will make Italian politics more efficient by eliminating the need for all laws to be approved by both houses of parliament.

The difficulty of maintaining viable majorities in the two chambers has helped perpetuate political instability in Italy.

Opponents say the reform, which has already passed the lower house, will end up placing too much power in the hands of the prime minister. Critics within the PD say senators should at least be elected to boost the chamber’s democratic credentials.

“If we want to force through the text that has come from the lower house, then we have the numbers, as we always have had,” said Renzi. “But right up to the end, as we have always done, we will try to reach an agreement (with opponents).”

Renzi has a majority of just six in the 320-seat Senate, leaving him vulnerable to any revolt. He took office 18 months ago and since then has tackled reforms of the labor market, education and the public administration, among other areas.

Although the economy has finally pulled out of a three-year recession, the reform drive has yet to bear obvious fruit, underlining how hard it is to shake up Italy. Analysts say a previous welter of laws were ineffective because they were often poorly implemented, contradictory and failed to provide a consistent sense of direction.

However, Renzi said after “years in the swamp”, Italy was moving forward and stuck to a pledge to slash taxes over the coming three years, saying he had 17 billion euros ($19 billion) to play with thanks to greater EU budget flexibility.

“We will look to use some of this,” he said.

($1 = 0.8946 euros)

Writing by Crispian Balmer; editing by Clelia Oziel

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