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Renzi lays down marker on EU leadership

Italian Premier and Democratic party leader Matteo Renzi speaks at a campaign rally in view of the EU Parliament elections, in Rome, on May 22.

Italian PM says People’s Party candidate Juncker has no automatic claim on Commission job

TRENTO — Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi suggested yesterday that Jean-Claude Juncker may not get Italy’s backing to be the next president of the European Commission.

The former president of Luxembourg was presented as a candidate by the European People’s Party, which won the most seats in last week’s election for the EU Parliament.

Speaking at an economic conference in the northern Italian town of Trento, Renzi promised reforms to cut red tape and encourage investments in Italy and said that, by the end of July, he would present a package of measures called “Unblock Italy,” to try to get the economy moving after a two-year recession.

When asked about European affairs during a 90-minute question and answer session, the 39-year-old former mayor of Florence said a discussion was needed over who would be the next president of the European Commission and that Juncker was not the only candidate.

Renzi is the leader of Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party, which won more than 40 percent of the votes in last week’s election.

“Juncker is ‘one’ name for the Commission, but he is not ‘the’ name,” he said yesterday.

The European Commission president is selected by EU leaders but must be approved by the assembly, where Eurosceptics from the right made gains in last week’s election.

Meanwhile, a British official denied yesterday a report from German magazine Der Spiegel that Prime Minister David Cameron had threatened to withdraw the UK from the European Union if Juncker got the job.

Cameron said at an EU summit last week that he would not be able to ensure that Britain stayed in the European Union if Juncker was elected president of the EU Commission. The magazine then said participants understood this to mean that a vote for Juncker could destabilize Cameron’s government to the extent that a referendum on EU membership would have to be brought forward from its planned date of 2017, and that this would make it likely that the British people would vote to leave the EU.

But the British official, who declined to be named, said Cameron’s plan to hold a referendum on membership in 2017 if re-elected had not changed, and that he did not favour bringing the vote forward.

He said Cameron had told his EU counterparts he did not think Juncker was the right person for the job, and made clear at a summit dinner in Brussels that choosing someone who was not a reformer could damage the EU’s image in Britain and make it more likely that Britons would vote to leave the EU in 2017.

Packed agenda

Renzi’s “Unblock Italy” package adds to an already packed reform agenda for Renzi, who has promised to reform the electoral system, abolish the Senate as an elected chamber and overhaul labour rules, the public administration and the tax system.

However, he has fallen behind the timetable he set himself for these reforms when he replaced Enrico Letta in an internal party coup in February.

So far, the most significant measure he has managed to turn into law has been a cut in income tax which will boost pay-packets of low-paid workers up to 80 euros per month over the second half of this year.

While critics say Renzi is failing to back up his promises with facts, his triumph at the European Parliament elections showed he is still enjoying a honeymoon period with Italians who welcome his dynamic, informal style and can-do rhetoric.

In a typically lively performance yesterday he promised to tackle corruption, increase the transparency of government and generally revolutionize what has been Europe’s most sluggish economy for more than a decade.

“We have to be more transparent than Britain and America, more efficient than the Germans and even more inventive than we have been. And we can do it,” he said.

Herald with Reuters

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