by Eric J. Lyman
ROME, March 8(Xinhua) -- The Matteo Renzi era in Italian politics is set to get started next week, when the reform-minded former Florence mayor who on Feb. 22 became Italy's youngest prime minister ever gets started on his much-heralded reform agenda.
The 39-year-old Renzi said this week he would present a series of what he called "very important reforms" starting the week of March 10, aimed at sparking economic growth, creating jobs, reforming a bloated public administration, improving outdated schools, and making housing more affordable.
"On Wednesday (March 12) we will introduce an affordable housing plan," Renzi said at a summit of Italian mayors in Sicily. "We also hope for measures to be taken on a jobs bill."
Renzi noted that the government would spend at least 1.7 billion euros (2.359 billion U.S. dollars) to help combat youth unemployment, now standing at above 40 percent of the country's entire work force under the age of 30. Another 2 billion euros would be spent to update crumbling school infrastructure.
Analysts differ on how effective Renzi is likely to be in his first major effort to push an agenda through Italy's notoriously difficult parliament. But they are almost unanimous that he is making a serious attempt to confront some of the country's most endemic problems right out of the gate.
"He means business, that is much clear," said Oliviero Fiorini, an economic and political analyst with ABS Securities in Milan. "This is not a tentative first step aimed at winning a public relations battle. He wants to change things."
Carlo Marletti, a political science expert at the University of Turin, agreed: "These are very important first steps because they can redefine the relationship between politics and economic in Italy," he said.
Renzi faces several tremendous challenges with his reform-heavy agenda, ranging from stagnate economic growth to near record low consumer confidence.
The European Comission this week even put Italy on its watch list because of the overall lack of economic competitiveness, its sky-high public debt, and burdensome bureaucracy -- that means the reform process will be followed closely by European Commission monitors, who could issue hefty fines if changes come to slowly.
But Renzi's biggest hurdle may be the parliament, which is divided into splintered voting blocs known for their infighting.
Renzi's highest office before becoming prime minister was as mayor of one of the country's major cities, and there was speculation that he could have a hard time cajoling lawmakers to support his reforms -- something that relies on relationships and on a skill set he never had to develop as mayor. He has also said he wishes to abolish the Senate, parliament's upper house, something that obviously doesn't sit well with members of that chamber.
But so far, he is doing well, helped at least in part by wide popular support.
"Renzi's approval levels are only a little over 50 percent, but ask if people want these reforms to work and then you get nearly 3 in 4 Italians saying yes," said Maria Rossi, co-director of polling company Opinioni. "It's risky for a parliamentarian to oppose reform now."
Marletti, the political scientists, said Renzi cannot count on the parliamentary detent to last forever.
"The biggest immediate challenge is institutional reform and the redefinition of the role of the Senate," he said. "If that is not fixed, then all the rest will go haywire."