* Renzi under pressure to show results quickly
* Reform programme expected at Monday's confidence vote
* Government holds first cabinet meeting after swearing-in
By Giselda Vagnoni
ROME, Feb 22 Italian centre-left leader Matteo
Renzi took office on Saturday as his country's youngest prime
minister, facing pressure to show immediate results after he
forced out his predecessor over the slow pace of economic
The 39-year-old Renzi has named a low-profile list of
ministers with a mix of politicians and technocrats which
included no figures capable of challenging his control of the
government. Its success or failure will therefore be seen as his
With an average age under 48, the 16-member cabinet is one
of the smallest and youngest in recent Italian history. Half its
members are women, the highest proportion ever, underlining the
image of a fresh start on which Renzi has built his reputation.
But he faces a huge challenge with the eurozone's third
largest economy struggling to emerge from its worst slump since
World War Two, weighed down by a 2 trillion euro ($2.75
trillion) public debt and an industrial base that has crumbled
over the past decade.
Business and union leaders have repeatedly warned that the
government must take urgent action to save Italy's ailing
industry with tens of thousands of companies going out of
business and millions put out of work.
"The responsibility is enormous and this must not fail,"
said Rocco Palombella, secretary general of the UILM union,
which represents workers in the engineering sector. "If it does,
there will be no appeal," he said in a statement.
Renzi, who won the leadership of the centre-left Democratic
Party (PD) only in December, forced his party rival Enrico Letta
to resign last week after repeatedly attacking him for not
moving more quickly on economic reforms.
The new prime minister has laid out an ambitious agenda for
his first months in office, promising a sweeping overhaul of the
electoral and constitutional system to give Italy more stable
governments in future and reforms to the labour and tax systems
as well as the bloated public administration.
However, the unwieldy coalition with the small centre-right
NCD party on which he will depend for a majority remains
unchanged from the one which hampered Letta's efforts at reform
and he faces a fractious parliament which has proved difficult
for past governments to control.
The newly installed cabinet met for the first time on
Saturday and Renzi is expected to go before the Senate on Monday
for the first of two parliamentary confidence votes next week
where he will give more detail on his policy programme.
Renzi becomes the third prime minister in succession to be
appointed without an election victory behind him and although
the constitution does not formally require it, his lack of a
mandate from voters may limit his ability to push through tough
Moreover, the bitterness left by the leadership struggle was
palpable in a handover ceremony which was over in seconds, with
a stony-faced Letta offering the briefest of handshakes before
leaving the prime minister's office for the last time.
The new prime minister's main experience in government has
been as mayor of the city of Florence and many of his ministers
will also be learning on the job.
But media commentators and opposition politicians were quick
to point to similarities between the new and old governments -
five of ministers have remained in the cabinet and another,
Graziano Delrio, has become Renzi's chief of staff.
The oldest member of the cabinet, 64-year-old Economy
Minister Pier Carlo Padoan, former chief economist at the
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, will play
a key role in maintaining the confidence of partners ranging
from the European Central Bank to foreign investors.
The other main economic ministers, Industry Minister
Federica Guidi, a former official at employers' association
Confindustria, and Labour Minister Giuliano Poletti, former head
of the cooperative association Legacoop, will face pressure on
Underlining the stakes, UILM union leader Palombella said
Italy's loss of its industry could eventually lead to it joining
Greece in being placed under special administration by European
authorities and the International Monetary Fund.
Among the new government's priorities will be cutting taxes
on business and overhauling labour market rules that deter
employers from taking on new permanent staff, but in both cases
it will be bound by tight constraints.
Italy's European Union partners have made clear they are
unwilling to give the new government room to breach tight
borrowing limits while unions have opposed moves to loosen
strict hiring and firing rules.