* Party rebels oppose PM's plan for Senate reform
* Renzi's allies show no desire for compromise
* PM's position bolstered by European election win
* Renzi struggling to meet reform promises
(Adds comment, background)
By Gavin Jones
ROME, June 12 Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's
plans to reform Italian politics suffered a setback on Thursday
when 13 senators from his centre-left Democratic Party (PD)
withdrew their backing in protest against his moves for
Renzi will not be assured of a majority in the Senate, the
upper house of parliament, without the defectors, which will
make it difficult for him to push through legislation.
The row centres on Renzi's plans to replace the Senate as an
elected chamber with one made up of mayors, regional councillors
and appointees of the head of state. He also plans to curb its
powers so its approval is not needed to pass the budget or most
other bills and he would remove its power to bring down a
government with a confidence vote.
Renzi, the 39-year-old former mayor of Florence, set out his
plans when he took office in February, saying the Senate was a
drag on the legislative process and a financial drain on
But the reform has been held up in the Senate Constitutional
Affairs Committee. This week, Renzi removed two PD opponents of
the plan from the committee.
In a shock response on Thursday, 13 PD senators said they
were "suspending themselves" from the party and accused Renzi of
authoritarian tactics at odds with the constitution.
Giuseppe Civati, a PD deputy frequently critical of Renzi,
said his removal of the senators from the committee was "a
political error" and rebuked him for trying to "eliminate
dissent" in the party.
The senators did not say they would leave the PD itself and
their action was seen more as a warning shot to Renzi than an
immediate threat to his government's survival.
A crushing victory by the PD in elections to the European
Parliament last month was widely seen as a personal triumph for
Renzi, but despite his personal popularity he has so far made
little headway with a raft of promised reforms.
When Renzi ousted party rival Enrico Letta to become prime
minister he said he would "revolutionise" Italy with a major
reform each month, but he has had to come to terms with the
difficulties of leading a fractious coalition and resistance
from sections of his own party.
He pushed through a popular cut in income tax for low
earners, but promised reforms of the labour market, the public
administration and the judicial system have been modest or have
not yet been presented.
His blueprint for an overhaul of the electoral law, agreed
in January with centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi, has also
made no progress in parliament and Berlusconi frequently
suggests he may pull his support.
Renzi, who has been on a tour of Asia this week, said on
Wednesday the European elections showed Italians back him and he
was determined to pursue reforms despite political resistance.
"Considering that votes count for more than vetoes, we will
be carrying on with our heads high," he told reporters in China.
The rebels say they are in favour of reforming the Senate,
including reducing the current number of 315 elected senators,
but they want senators to continue to be elected directly rather
than chosen by regional councils and mayors.
However, since winning the PD leadership, Renzi has proven
highly effective in overcoming internal dissent and his
supporters made clear they had no intention of compromising.
"Thirteen senators cannot be allowed to go against the will
of 12 million voters and block the reforms that the Italians
have asked for," said Cabinet Undersecretary Luca Lotti.
(additional reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio, writing by
Gavin Jones; Editing by Janet Lawrence)