The man who survived Berlusconi's uprising

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Photo: Andreas Solaro|AFP
18:23 CEST+02:00
Italy's government was on the verge of collapse this week thanks to a Silvio Berlusconi-led uprising. But the mild-mannered prime minister Enrico Letta kept his cool and swept up the votes of confidence in his fragile coalition, leaving Berlusconi and his dwindling number of supporters shame-faced.

Tell us a bit about Enrico Letta’s background.

He was born in Pisa in 1966, which makes him the third youngest Italian prime minister since 1945. His father, Giorgio, is a maths professor at the University of Pisa, while his mother, Anna Bianchi, was born in Sardinia. With several uncles involved in politics, including the centre-right politician Gianni Letta - a close advisor of Silvio Berlusconi - perhaps his political career was inevitable. That said, he also has a writer in the family - his great uncle is poet and playwright Gian Paolo Bazzon.

How did he get into politics and become prime minister?

He undertook a doctorate in European Community law before heading the European youth wing of the centre-right Christian Democrats from 1991 to 1995. Silvio Berlusconi’s arrival on the political scene in 1994 soon led to the split of the Christian Democrats, with Letta then siding with a centre-left coalition led by Romano Prodi.

Over the years, he has worked in the finance ministry, the industry ministry and between 2006 and 2008 he was cabinet secretary in Prodi’s government.

Letta wasn’t a candidate for this year's election, or even a party leader, when he was plucked by President Giorgio Napolitano on April 23rd to be prime minister, breaking two months of deadlock after inconclusive elections in February. After four days of pondering, Letta agreed to take on the role.

Does he speak any languages other than Italian?

As a Europhile, he speaks English and French.

So how is he rated in the job so far?

Leaning towards the moderate side of the centre-left Democratic Party, some commentators say he strikes a good balance between the left and the right, which kind of makes the coalition work. With a similar stance to predecessor Mario Monti, he’s mainly seen as being quite promising for Italy.

Over the last six months, he’s been laying the groundwork for potentially good things to come with constitutional reform being top of the agenda. He’s already cut ministers’ salaries and approved a bill to phase out direct subsidies to parties. He’s also striving for economic reform and liberalisation while boosting youth employment and attracting foreign investment.

It’s an ambitious programme, with the main question being, will his government last long enough for it to bear fruit?

There are a lot of women in his government. Is the make-up of Italian politics something else he’s trying to revamp?

Well in September, Letta praised his women ministers, including Laura Boldrini, Cecile Kyenge and Emma Bonino, by saying they “do a better job than men”.

The number of women who have entered the Italian government since Letta came on board has increased from 20 to 30 percent.

“I wanted my government to have the largest number of women in Italian history”, he said.

He is also a staunch supporter of Kyenge, who has been subjected to a series of vicious racist attacks, saying that what she has suffered in the short time since becoming integration minister is “unacceptable”.

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So what other things has he said?

After Berlusconi dropped his bid to oust the government on Wednesday, Letta said, “Italians are crying out that they cannot take any more blood in the arena, with politicians who slit each other's throats and then nothing changes.”

He also said Berlusconi used the sales tax increase as an alibi, "to justify the crazy and irresponsible gesture, all aimed only to cover up his personal affairs.”

What does he do when he’s not trying to stabilise his government and boost Italy’s economy?

He spends time with his wife, Gianna Fregonara and three sons, Giacomo, Lorenzo and Francesco. He also likes listening to Dire Straits and playing the football game, Subbuteo. He is a fan of AC Milan.

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