- POSTED: 22 Feb 2014 20:26
- UPDATED: 23 Feb 2014 01:04
Italy's youngest-ever prime minister Matteo Renzi and his fresh-faced cabinet were sworn in amid widespread scepticism that the new government has the political maturity to tackle the country's formidable challenges.
ROME: Italy's youngest-ever prime minister Matteo Renzi and his fresh-faced cabinet were sworn in on Saturday, amid widespread scepticism that the new government has the political maturity to tackle the country's formidable challenges.
The 39-year-old former mayor of Florence was accompanied by his wife and three children - dressed in the colours of the Italian flag - to the formal ceremony at the presidential palace, and smiled widely as he watched his new team sworn in by President Giorgio Napolitano.
The centre-left leader takes over the reins of the Eurozone’s third largest economy in a period of increasing frustration among ordinary Italians hard hit by a deep recession and weary of broken political promises.
"It is a hard and difficult task. But we are Italy, we'll succeed. A pledge: to remain true to ourselves, free and simple," Renzi said in a tweet.
The new premier is expected to present his programme to the upper house of parliament on Monday, before addressing the lower house on Tuesday.
In his 16-strong cabinet, half of the new ministers are women and - with an average age of 47.8 years - it is the youngest government in Italy's history.
Renzi is "gambling on freshness, newness and energy" but "doubts must be raised over the government's experience and ability to have a bearing on the worst post-war economic crisis Italy has known", said political watcher Mario Calabresi in La Stampa daily.
European partners will be watching closely to see whether Renzi can revolutionise Rome's halls of power after ousting his predecessor Enrico Letta for failing to enact reforms in a country often perceived as stifled by corruption and bureaucracy.
French President Francois Hollande congratulated Renzi in a telephone call and invited him to Paris for talks, the president's office said in a statement.
The new prime minister had made it clear he was reluctant to keep a team that worked with Letta, but many analysts expressed surprise over the former mayor's decision to change the majority of posts, including key offices such as foreign minister.
Most political watchers agreed that Renzi's best decision was to give the key post of finance minister to Pier Carlo Padoan, the chief economist at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Padoan, 63, did not attend the swearing-in ceremony as he was only expected back in Rome late Saturday from Sydney where he had joined a G20 meeting of the world's major economies.
"He is an expert, with a renowned political sensibility, appreciated and valued in Europe and international forums," said Stefano Folli of the financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore .
"Italy's credibility will rest almost entirely on his shoulders, representing both the newness of the Renzi government but also continuity with the things that matter," he said.
Renzi held his first cabinet meeting after the swearing-in and had an unusually curt encounter with his predecessor, journalists who were present said.
Italy is struggling to reverse the effects of a deep recession and is lumbered with a public debt equivalent to 130 per cent of total economic output.
The unemployment rate stands at a near record 12.7 per cent, with joblessness at 41.6 per cent among the young.
Accepting the role of prime minister on Friday after three hours of talks with the president, Renzi spoke of the "responsibility, delicacy and extraordinary honour which comes from creating a government capable of bringing hope".
The former Boy Scout's diplomatic skills are likely to be sorely tested by his centre-left and right coalition government - as well as a need to keep on his side ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, whose Forza Italia party will be in opposition but will be key to pushing through reforms.
He will also need to regain the trust of ordinary Italians, many of whom thought he should have waited for elections rather than unseating Letta and grasping power.
"It doesn't just depend on Renzi. Berlusconi holds in his hand the second majority, the power to push through reforms," the Corriere della Sera daily said.
Many political observers said that, should Renzi fail, it would likely open the door to the anti-establishment Five Star movement.
"The acrobat is on the high wire, alone and without a safety net. Let's hope he manages: otherwise the only things that remain are the populist clowns," La Repubblica said.
The Five Star's founder, outspoken former comedian Beppe Grillo, described the Renzi government's swearing-in ceremony as "a second-rate film, but a very expensive one, paid for with our money".
"A puff of democracy now would be enough to bring everything crashing down," he said.
Renzi, with a majority in parliament that is all but reliable, appeared to be aware of the risks lying ahead, stating: "We are not only putting our careers on the line but also our heads."