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POLITICS

Enrico Letta: Child prodigy of Italian politics

Enrico Letta, set to be nominated to be Italy's next prime minister on Wednesday, is the Europhile deputy leader of the leftist Democratic Party who at 46 already has extensive government experience.

Enrico Letta: Child prodigy of Italian politics
Enrico Letta after being appointed Prime Minister by President Napolitano: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

His age counted in his favour amid calls for a generational turnover, as did his "post-ideological" image which makes him an ideal guarantor for a grand coalition government.

Despite his age, Letta has already served in four governments, including stints as minister for Europe and for trade and industry starting in centre-left cabinets from the late 1990s.

Another possible asset for the current political situation is the fact that his uncle is Gianni Letta, a shadowy figure who has been Silvio Berlusconi's right-hand man for years.

This did not prevent him from being one of Berlusconi's strongest critics, although the scandal-tainted billionaire tycoon will now be an important power behind the throne.

Letta was born in Pisa on August 20th, 1966 and studied political sciences and international law at a time when he was an active member of the Christian Democratic party, which eventually collapsed in a storm of corruption scandals.

Letta headed up the European youth wing of the centre-right Christian Democrats between 1991 and 1995, after which he worked at the finance ministry on Italy's bid to adopt the euro before joining Massimo D'Alema's leftist government in 1998.

The ambitious Letta later served under two other prime ministers – Giuliano Amato and Romano Prodi in a period in which an often divided centre-left alternated its frequently brief terms in office with successive Berlusconi governments.

He has said his heroes are Polish anti-communist leader Lech Walesa and South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.

Letta has also admitted to a fondness for popular Italian comic "Dylan Dog" – the adventures of a womanising sleuth specialised in the paranormal.

"I wanted to be like him," he told one interviewer. Letta is also a big fan of British rock band Dire Straits and Italian pop-rockers Nomadi.

He has been a leading member of the national committee of the Democratic Party since it was formed in 2007 as a combination between the remnants of the
historic Italian Communist Party and a series of small centrist parties.

But he sees himself as "post-ideological" saying in one interview in 2007: "My generation did not live through certain illusions and has therefore avoided the period of disillusionment".

He said his first public speech was a denunciation of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan during a protest when he was still at school.

Letta failed in his bid to take over the leadership of the Democratic Party in 2007, although he became deputy leader in 2009.

He is currently the most senior figure in the party after its senior leadership resigned on Friday following a rebellion within party ranks during voting on a new president.

Letta is the author of a few books including "Building a Cathedral: Why Italy Should Go Back to Thinking Big" and "Is Europe Over?" in which he called for a "new project" for Europe to lift it out of a period of crisis on many levels.

He has been married twice and has three children.

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POLITICS

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Days after Italy's far-right leader made a multilingual appeal to foreign commentators to take her seriously, her main rival in September elections issued his own tit-for-tat video Saturday condemning her record.

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Former prime minister Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, declared his pro-European credentials in a video in English, French and Spanish, while deriding the euroscepticism of Italy’s right-wing parties.

It echoes the trilingual video published this week by Giorgia Meloni, tipped to take power in the eurozone’s third largest economy next month, in which she sought to distance her Brothers of Italy party from its post-fascist roots.

“We will keep fighting to convince Italians to vote for us and not for them, to vote for an Italy that will be in the heart of Europe,” Letta said in English.

His party and Meloni’s are neck-and-neck in opinion polls ahead of September 25 elections, both with around 23 percent of support.

But Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni is part of an alliance with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and anti-immigration leader Matteo Salvini, Letta has struggled to unite a fractured centre-left.

Speaking in French perfected in six years as a dean at Sciences Po university in Paris, Letta emphasised European solidarity, from which Italy is currently benefiting to the tune of almost 200 billion euros ($205 billion) in
post-pandemic recovery funds.

“We need a strong Europe, we need a Europe of health, a Europe of solidarity. And we can only do that if there is no nationalism inside European countries,” he said.

He condemned the veto that he said right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor “Orban — friends and allies of the Italian right — is using every time he can (to) harm Europe”.

In Spanish, Letta highlighted Meloni’s ties with Spain’s far-right party Vox, at whose rally she spoke earlier this summer, railing at the top of her voice against “LGBT lobbies”, Islamist violence, EU bureaucracy and mass
immigration.

In English, he condemned the economic legacy of Berlusconi, a three-time premier who left office in 2011 as Italy was on the brink of economic meltdown, but still leads his Forza Italia party.

Letta’s programme includes a focus on green issues — he intends to tour Italy in an electric-powered bus — and young people, but he has made beating Meloni a key plank of his campaign.

Meloni insisted in her video that fascism was in the past, a claim greeted with scepticism given her party still uses the logo of a flame used by the Italian Social Movement set up by supporters of fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

In a joint manifesto published this week, Meloni, Berlusconi and Salvini committed themselves to the EU but called for changes to its budgetary rules — and raised the prospect of renegotiating the pandemic recovery plan.

Elections were triggered by the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government last month, and are occurring against a backdrop of soaring inflation, a potential winter energy crisis and global uncertainty sparked by
the Ukraine war.

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