24 April 2013

The nomination of Enrico Letta as prime minister by President Giorgio Napolitano is the latest attempt to break Italy’s two-month political deadlock. The 46-year old Mr. Letta would be the nation’s second youngest prime minister if confirmed by parliament. It marks a general change in theory but not effectively in substance.

As a career politician with stints in academia, Letta has been a part of Italy’s establishment since the 1990s. With origins in the center-right, he even served as chairman of the European Young Christian Democrats twenty years ago. At least temporarily, this makes him more acceptable to Italy’s center-right. Potential value-added for Mr. Letta is being the nephew of Gianni Letta, who loyally served as chief of staff to Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister and current head of Italy’s center-right.
A grand coalition government under Mr. Letta is likely to be transitional, composed of technocrats and elected officials, and focus on key basic reforms, primarily in the economic and electoral spheres. A limited agenda and lifespan would likely be followed by elections in late 2013 at the earliest or the first half of 2014.

A Letta government would increasingly replace the language of austerity with the rhetoric of growth to make policies more publicly acceptable. Even European Commission President José Manuel Barroso proclaimed Europe has reached its austerity limits.

However, apart from select initiatives and cosmetic changes, a Letta government is unlikely to stray too far from austerity. Consistency and continuity with Prime Minister Mario Monti’s overall policies, and the broader European Union agenda, will largely prevail. After all, Letta shares common roots with Monti as a moderate centrist. For Italy’s political establishment, Enrico Letta remains a safe pair of hands for now.

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