by Eric J. Lyman
ROME, March 21 (Xinhua) -- New Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's "balancing act" includes pushing for changes in Europe that will help Italy emerge from its economic problems, said analysts.
"Italy's problems are economic and there's little risk with spending less on a few fighter planes," Franco Pavoncello, president of John Cabot University and a regular commentator on political and economic issues told Xinhua Thursday. "It's more important that Renzi shows Italy is focusing on growth and not afraid to stand up to the lobby calling for more fighter planes."
Renzi, a former mayor of Florence, became Italy's newest prime minister on Feb. 22 with a challenging reform-minded agenda that included taking on the country's complex tax system, reforming political rules, and sparking economic growth without adding too much to the country's massive public debt.
One of Renzi's early steps was calling into question at least part of a planned purchase of 90 Joint Strike Fighters as part of a cost saving measure. Hawks in the Italian parliament criticized the idea, saying instability between Russia and Ukraine showed the need for Italy to maintain a strong military. But leading analysts scoffed at that view.
"He has a real balancing act to perform," Michele Prospero, a political scientist with the Sapeinza University of Rome told Xinhua. "He has to develop a medium- and long-term strategy that will set the stage for more stability and growth, but at the same time he cannot forget the short-term steps that will show he has a plan and that will keep his support intact."
Surprisingly, for a prime minister who inherited a politically and economically troubled home front, Renzi has been focusing a lot of his efforts beyond Italy's borders.
It is true that his first steps included a tax cut package that won him new popular support and may prove to move the needle at least a little in terms of economic growth, but much of his attention has been pushing his reform agenda to Europe as a whole.
"He is pushing for less bureaucracy, less regulation, less austerity, and more focus on citizens so that countries will have room to grow," said Pavoncello. "In a way, it is reinventing the idea of Europe, and envisioning it with Italy once again in a leading role."
Pavoncello and others say the plan involves pushing for Europe-wide changes.
"Renzi's backers need to worry about the support of (comic-turned-anti-government crusader) Beppe Grillo," Gian Franco Gallo, a political analyst with investment bankers Hildebrandt and Ferrar, told Xinhua. "If Italy wants to increase its relevance on the EU level, they can't allow Grillo to make gains."
Pavoncello agreed: "Renzi will hope to take votes away from the Grillo forces by illustrating he opposes a sterile EU policy of taking austerity orders from Germany and instead focus on growth."
As the first test, Italians will vote in May on representatives for the European Parliament. According to Gallo, the vote could become cast as a kind of proxy vote on Renzi's performance up to that point.