Italy Gets New Premier With Support From Berlusconi, Others

Enrico Letta - P 2013

Enrico Letta is Italy's second-youngest prime minister, but his hold on power still depends on the country's old guard, including the Mediaset boss.

ROME – After eight weeks of deadlocked negotiations, veteran lawmaker Enrico Letta was appointed Italy’s prime minister designate. But Letta will have to count on support from three-time prime minister and billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi in order for his government to last.

Italy’s Feb. 24 to 25 elections failed to produce a conclusive result, setting the stage for eight weeks of fruitless negotiations that came to a head over the weekend when Giorgio Napolitano, Italy’s 87-year-old president, reluctantly agreed to a second seven-year term. He admonished lawmakers on Monday, telling them that if they didn’t find a solution soon, he’d quit.

The result is a grand coalition featuring the center-left party Letta is part of, the centrist party of outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti and Berlusconi’s center-right backers. If Letta loses the support of any of those groups, he’d likely lose the following confidence vote, forcing him to resign. If he does, it likely would result in new elections in which Berlusconi says he likely would be a candidate.

Some members of Letta’s center-left coalition have voiced unease at the uneasy truce with Berlusconi’s forces.

The need for his support is not Letta’s only tie to Berlusconi: The new prime minister’s uncle is Gianni Letta, a former high-ranking Berlusconi government official who often was Berlusconi’s representative at high-profile cinema events such as the Venice Film Festival, where he made regular appearances.

Letta’s first order of business will be to appoint a full slate of ministers, including a minister of culture, who will have a large say in how the government’s support for film and television will move forward. Letta said he would start consultations on his appointments Thursday. In recent years, the minister of culture in Italy has a raised profile, often weighing in to mediate disputes or give weight to new initiatives. 

At 46, Letta is Italy's second-youngest prime minister and the youngest since 1954. He also is the first person to head a government in Italy for the first time since Massimo D'Alema took control of the government in 1998.

His challenges include restarting economic growth in Italy, paying down government debt, pushing through electoral reforms and maintaining peace within his fragile coalition.

Berlusconi, 76, is Italy’s most powerful media figure, controlling three national television networks, a major film production and distribution house, and several print media. But in recent years, his stewardship of his Mediaset empire has been a part-time job, as he confronts an array of legal problems and plots his return to politics.

Twitter: @EricJLyman