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Politics

In Italy, Renzi gives pro-EU assurances, while also looking south

Italy's new premier Matteo Renzi has stressed the importance of the EU to Italy - and vice-versa. Despite this, Renzi - who won a confidence vote in the lower house - said his first foreign trip would be to Tunisia.

In a comprehensive speech to lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday, Renzi said he would seek swift reforms ahead of Italy's assumption of the EU presidency at the beginning of July.

Speaking ahead of a confidence vote, the 39-year-old said such action was needed to boost Rome's credibility with its European partners.

But while the new premier emphasized the importance of relations with Italy's European neighbors, he made a departure from predecessors in the selection of a destination for his first foreign trip. Renzi, the former Mayor of Florence and Italy's youngest-ever prime minister, said Tunis "and not Brussels or Berlin" would be the first port of call on his international travel agenda.

"We hope that the Mediterranean will return to centre stage," he said.

‘No Europe without Italy'

Echoing the frustration of some Italians with the notion that their country has too often found itself on the receiving end of lectures about fiscal imprudence, Renzi called for relations to be put on a more equal footing.

"Europe today doesn't give us hope because we have allowed the debate to be dominated by decimal points and percentages," he said.

"We want a Europe where Italy doesn't just go and receive instructions but gives a fundamental contribution, because there can be no Europe without Italy."

Renzi said that, nonetheless, Italy did need to address its problems and begin to lose its reputation as one of Europe's problem economies before assuming the presidency. "Europe is not our enemy," he said in a 50-minute speech that was noted for its colloquial style.

‘Gigantic operation of simplification'

Having comfortably secured a vote of confidence from upper house lawmakers in the Senate in the early hours of Tuesday, Renzi faced an easier test in the lower house, where his coalition enjoys more favorable numbers.

He garnered 378 votes for, compared with 220 against in the lower-house vote, a necessary part of the process for forming a new government under the Italian constitution.

During the speech, Renzi also promised there would be radical steps to reanimate Italy's lethargic economy, promising to overhaul the tax system "by a gigantic operation of simplification."

Among the other reforms planned are a new election law intended to create more political stability, the abolition of the upper house of parliament and an overhaul of the justice system to encourage investment.

Renzi's center-left Democratic Party leads a centrist coalition. He was sworn into office on Saturday after a successful maneuver to oust his party colleague Enrico Letta from the post of prime minister.

rc/jm (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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