by Eric J. Lyman
ROME, 26 April (Xinhua) -- Entering his third month as prime minister, Italy's Matteo Renzi is starting to flex political muscle that makes analysts believe he could yield results with the ambitious reform agenda he laid out before becoming prime minister.
The 39-year-old Renzi is Italy's youngest head of government ever, and he came into the job without any legislative experience -- both facts that made many doubt his plans to overhaul the country's tax system, labor laws, public administration, political rule book, all while sparking growth in an anemic economy that trailed the European Union's overall growth rate for all but two of the last 14 years.
Renzi, who became prime minister on Feb. 22, still has plenty of doubters and critics, but analysts say he's starting to turn heads both in Italy and abroad.
"Italy watchers are noticing," Adrian Wilson, an author and Italy expert with State University of New York system in the U.S., told Xinhua. "For so long, we were accustomed to Italy news focusing on most initiatives getting blocked. But all of a sudden, things are getting done."
In one high-profile move last week, Renzi sacked the leadership at four large former state-run monopolies where the Italian Treasury still holds a large stake. He also managed to pass a 10-billion-euro (13.8 billion U.S. dollars) tax package that will as of next week start adding cash to the pay check of millions of low-end workers.
This week the prime minister also planned to revamp the way European Union funds are used in Italy, saying, "A lot of money comes in and is not spent or is spent badly."
Most recently, he easily won a confidence vote in the lower house of parliament that will allow rules to be changed to make it easier for companies to hire temporary workers. The plan is part of a broader initiative aimed at making Italian labor regulations less restrictive.
Confidence votes are risky because if the government loses one, the prime minister is required to step down. But Renzi won the vote easily: 344 votes in favor and 184 against.
"That's more support than he's received up until now," Wilson said. "I think its an illustration of how some lawmakers are starting to jump on the Renzi bandwagon, so to speak."
He's gaining support among the general population as well, pollsters report, although it's manifesting itself in an unusual way.
"I find it interesting that Renzi's overall approval level doesn't change much: it stays at around 50 percent," Maria Rossi, co-director of the Rome-based polling firm Opinioni, said in an interview. "But what changes is the percentage of people who think he'll be successful. Those numbers are rising steadily and now are nearly as high as his approval levels."
It is not all good news for Renzi, who is failing to gain traction with a plan to overhaul the political system, including a dramatic downsizing of the Senate, the upper house of the parliament. Part of the difficulties with that plan is that it will require backing of senators who will in effect be voting themselves out of a job.
If the Senate has serous resentments against Renzi, it will have its chance to show it May 19 when it casts ballots in its own confidence vote on the proposed labor reform plan, which cannot become law without the legislative body's approval.