Italian president calls for ‘realistic proposals’ ahead of election

Italian President Mattarella (left) talks with Prime Minister Gentiloni at the Quirinale Presidential palace in Rome. Photo: Reuters

Italian President Mattarella (left) talks with Prime Minister Gentiloni at the Quirinale Presidential palace in Rome. Photo: Reuters

President Sergio Mattarella on Sunday urged political parties to make realistic proposals for Italy’s problems, especially joblessness, ahead of a March election.

Although the presidency is largely ceremonial, Mr Mattarella does have the power to pick prime ministers and dissolve Parliament, which he did this week to open the way for a March 4 election.

“The duty to make adequate proposals – realistic and concrete ones – is a must, given the dimension of the problems our country faces,” Mr Mattarella said during a traditional end-year speech broadcast live on national television.

“Yet again I must underscore that jobs remain the primary and most serious social issue, especially for the young,” Mr Mattarella added in his unusually brief 10-minute address.

Italy’s economy, the eurozone’s third-biggest, probably grew this year at its fastest rate since 2010 but remains among the most sluggish in Europe. Unemployment remains above 11 per cent, while youth joblessness is about 35 per cent.

Though Italy has the largest public debt in the eurozone after Greece’s, all the main political forces are pledging to raise the budget deficit if they win the election, with policies ranging from the expansive to the outlandish.

Italy was at the heart of the eurozone debt crisis in 2011, and the impending vote is seen the next source of potential instability in the currency bloc.

The premium that investors demand to hold Italian rather than German 10-year government bonds reached its widest since October 23 on Friday, a day after Mr Mattarella dissolved parliament.

The ruling Democratic Party (PD) is promising up to €50 billion euros in tax cuts, while the centre-right Forza Italia wants to bring back the lira for domestic use alongside the euro and introduce a flat income tax.

The anti-establishment Five-Star Movement has floated the idea of holding a referendum on Italy’s euro membership if the European Union refuses to renegotiate its stringent fiscal rules.

Opinion polls now suggest no one will win a parliamentary majority, which may force Mr Mattarella to intervene to try to break a political deadlock.

A centre-right alliance built around Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia looks set to take the largest number of seats, according to the most recent polls, but is likely to come up short of a majority in both houses.

Polls suggest Forza Italia will get around 16 per cent and its partners, the right-wing Northern League and Brothers of Italy, 14 and five, respectively. Five-Star leads opinion polls with more than 27 per cent , followed by the PD on around 24 per cent.

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