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Last updated: April 25, 2013 7:21 pm
Efforts to break two months of deadlock and form Italy’s next government will continue on Friday after a first round of talks between Enrico Letta, centre-left prime minister designate, and Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right party ended without agreement.
Angelino Alfano, secretary of the centre-right People of Liberty, said the talks with Mr Letta had been held in a constructive spirit and made progress but that “knots” remained to be resolved.
Further talks would be held, and Mr Berlusconi was expected to speak to Mr Letta by telephone from the US before his return to Rome, Mr Alfano told a news conference.
The inconclusive first round was not unexpected, given Mr Berlusconi’s absence while he attended the inauguration of the George W. Bush presidential library in Dallas on Thursday. Officials and politicians remained hopeful that the two parties would reach agreement in time for the new government to be sworn in soon, possibly on Saturday, and to receive the confidence vote it needs in parliament early next week.
Mr Alfano said the centre-right was not laying down preconditions for its participation in a coalition government led by its centre-left rivals, despite statements to the contrary by senior party officials on Wednesday.
At the same time Mr Alfano made clear that their priority was to resolve the issue of a property tax that Mr Berlusconi pledged to abolish during the February elections that resulted in a hung parliament. Without agreement on this, Mr Alfano said, the party “cannot maintain its relationship of trust with its electorate”.
Mr Alfano played down the problems of sharing out cabinet posts, saying it was up to Mr Letta to propose a list of ministers to Giorgio Napolitano, head of state.
Mr Letta separately told reporters that differences remained and that he would remain in contact with Mr Napolitano. Mr Letta said he had a 30-second telephone conversation with Mr Berlusconi and that the former prime minister had given his encouragement. No meeting had been set for Friday, Mr Letta said.
“I will not hide the differences that exist,” Mr Letta said.
Mr Napolitano, the driving force behind efforts to form a coalition government, agreed with reluctance last Saturday to accept a second mandate at the age of 87 on the condition that the parties would bury their differences. Mr Letta, a moderate from the Democrats’ Catholic wing, was selected by Mr Napolitano as prime minister designate on Wednesday.
The small centrist Civic Choice, led by caretaker prime minister Mario Monti, gave its backing to Mr Letta, the former deputy head of the Democrats whose entire leadership resigned last weekend following the party’s implosion in its failure to agree on a successor to Mr Napolitano.
The anti-establishment Five Star Movement, the third largest group in parliament, refused to join Mr Letta. The Democrats also lost the support of their former electoral allies, the Left Ecology and Freedom party. The rightwing Brothers of Italy and the Milan-based Northern League, both previously allied to Mr Berlusconi, also said they would be in opposition.
Nevertheless, should Mr Letta reach agreement with Mr Berlusconi and Mr Monti then the next government could command a two-thirds majority needed to pass proposed constitutional changes to Italy’s paralysing parliamentary system.
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