New Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta won his first confidence vote in parliament after promising to press for change to the European Union’s focus on austerity and pursue economic growth and jobs.
The lower house confidence motion in his coalition government passed as easily on Monday night as expected, with 453 votes in favour and 153 against.
Letta was backed by his own centre-left Democratic Party (PD), Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right People of Freedom, as well as the centrist Civic Choice led by former prime minister Mario Monti.
The 46-year-old will not be fully empowered until he wins a second confidence vote in the upper house Senate on Tuesday.
Speaking ahead of the confidence vote Letta took a pro-European stance during his inaugural address, but also said that cuts would not be enough to pull his crisis-ridden country out of recession.
He pledged to visit Brussels, Berlin, and Paris in order to promote growth ahead of austerity as a way of ending the financial crisis in Italy.
“We will die of fiscal consolidation alone, growth policies cannot wait any longer,” he said, describing the country’s economic situation as still “serious” after more than a decade of stagnation.
The new premier compared the mammoth task ahead to “David in the valley of fears, in front of the Goliath of gigantic challenges,” and called on the government to “throw off the sword and armour weighing us down.”
During his inaugural address, Letta steered clear of subjects that cause conflict between the parties making up his fragile coalition government, as losing the vote would have led to another general election and cast Italy further in to political turmoil.
He made no reference to a law tackling conflicts of interests, which was promised by his PD party before and after the election but would be unacceptable to media tycoon Berlusconi.
Responding to centre-right demands for an unpopular housing tax to be scrapped, he said payments due in June would be halted although he did not promise to abolish the tax altogether as Berlusconi has demanded.
Letta’s cabinet, which includes a record seven women and Italy’s first black minister, was shaped partly in response to disillusionment with political elites shown by the success of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement in the last election.
In a concession to this growing mood of dissatisfaction with politicians, Letta said that the supplementary parliamentary salaries and other benefits enjoyed by ministers would be scrapped.
He also indicated that the policies he was outlining would be reviewed in 18 months, showing confidence in the length of his rule, but also seemed to indicate that if he felt he had been blocked by other parties he might resign.
Politicians from rival parties reacted positively to the speech, which had to assure all parties of Letta’s ability to steer the country out of the political stalemate of recent months.
“I think [Letta] has incorporated many points of the centre-right programme, in particular he gave a very positive
response on the issue of the IMU property tax, and this is a good starting point,” Renata Polverini, a politician from Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party, said.
“Then, he has focused on all of Italy’s problems and let’s hope that there will soon be an action plan to give answers to Italy’s most urgent problems, starting with the work issues.”