Italy's Renzi agrees to meeting with 5-Star Movement on reforms

ROME Thu Jun 19, 2014 2:39pm EDT

Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi looks on as he arrives to meet European Council President Herman Van Rompuy in Rome June 18, 2014.REUTERS/Remo Casilli

Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi looks on as he arrives to meet European Council President Herman Van Rompuy in Rome June 18, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Remo Casilli

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ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Thursday proposed a meeting with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement to discuss political reforms, potentially changing the path followed so far towards changing the electoral law and the political system.

The 5-Star Movement (M5S), which had previously rejected any co-operation with traditional parties, did a U-turn last week when it said it was ready to meet with Renzi and play a full role in the reform process.

Renzi on Thursday made his first official response, saying in an open letter that he thanked 5-Star, led by former comic Beppe Grillo, for opening a "frank, open and transparent dialogue in the interests of Italy."

He proposed that the two sides should meet on Wednesday next week.

Reforming the electoral system, widely blamed for both alienating voters and creating political deadlock, has been a key issue for Renzi, who struck a preliminary deal with center leader Silvio Berlusconi on the issue earlier this year.

However that accord has looked increasingly shaky, with Berlusconi frequently threatening to pull out, and it has made little progress in parliament.

Berlusconi is now proposing that Italy adopts the direct election of the president, as in France or the United States.

M5S, which is Italy's second largest party after Renzi's center Democratic Party (PD), says it is ready to open discussions on reforming the electoral law on the basis of its own proposal, based on a form of proportional representation.

That would be very different from the blueprint agreed between Renzi and Berlusconi, which is based on a two-round voting system with a large bonus of extra seats for the winning coalition.

Grillo said on his blog on Thursday that 5-Star was ready "to offer a fundamental contribution to reforming the constitution."

The 5-Star Movement's change of stance underlines the extent to which Renzi's position has been strengthened by a big win in last month's elections for the European Parliament, when the PD took 41 percent of the vote.

M5S took 21 percent, but that was a significant setback as it had hoped to build on its barn-storming success at its first ever parliamentary elections last year when it won 25 percent, and above all to overtake the PD.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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