* New government comfortably wins first confidence vote in
* Renzi promises quick action, cuts to tax on labour
* Says will pay off arrears owed by public administration
* Euro zone's third largest economy in urgent need of change
By James Mackenzie and Naomi O'Leary
ROME, Feb 24 Prime Minister Matteo Renzi won his
first confidence vote in parliament, pledging to cut labour
taxes, free up funds for investment in schools and pass wide
institutional reforms to tackle Italy's economic malaise.
Facing parliament for the first time, the 39-year-old Renzi
who is Italy's youngest premier, sketched out an ambitious
programme of change in an hour-long speech delivered in his
trademark quickfire style interspersed with occasional jeers
from the opposition benches.
"If we lose this challenge, the fault will be mine alone,"
he told the Senate. The euro zone's third-largest economy is in
urgent need of potentially painful reforms and is weighed down
by a 2-trillion-euro public debt.
Backed by his own centre-left Democratic Party (PD), the
small centre-right NCD party, centrists and other minor groups,
Renzi won the backing of the upper house by 169 votes to 139 in
a vote taken in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
The outgoing mayor of Florence, who won the leadership of
the PD in December, forced his party rival Letta to resign as
prime minister earlier this month after repeatedly criticising
his government's record.
Renzi promised sound public finances, which he said was a
duty Italy owed to its own children rather than to its European
Union partners. But he offered little detail and did not say
whether his government would seek any easing in tight EU budget
limits as he has suggested in the past.
U.S. President Barack Obama telephoned Renzi on Monday,
welcoming the new government's reform agenda and its focus on
jobs and growth, Renzi's office said in a statement.
The new premier promised to make it cheaper for companies to
take on staff by reducing payroll taxes in the first half of the
year with a double-digit cut in the so-called tax wedge, which
is the difference between what it costs a company to employ a
worker and the worker's take-home pay.
He said the measure would be financed by spending cuts and
other measures and said the government would evaluate increasing
tax on financial income to pay for a wider labour shake-up.
On Sunday, his chief of staff Graziano Delrio caused a stir
by suggesting the government was considering raising taxes on
government bonds, which are popular with Italian savers.
Renzi took office on Saturday promising a radical increase
in tempo, with an overhaul of the electoral and constitutional
system to ensure more stable governments in future, tax and
labour reforms and a shake-up of the bloated public
administration, all within his first 100 days.
The tone of his speech was direct and colloquial, in
contrast to the sober style of his two predecessors, Letta and
Mario Monti. Noting that, at 39, he was not even old enough to
hold a seat in the Senate, where the minimum age is 40, he said
that politics had lost touch with citizens.
"If we'd paid the same attention to what people say in their
local markets that we often paid to the financial markets, we
would have noticed that the first thing people want is
simplicity," he said.
He said the government's priority had to be to help small
businesses and people who had lost their jobs and he promised to
strengthen welfare protection for the unemployed. He also said
the government would make "a few billion" euros available for
urgently needed investment in school buildings.
The public administration would completely pay off its
arrears of unpaid bills, completing a campaign to free up
billions of euros owed to private sector suppliers begun by his
He gave little detail about how he intended to fill the
funding gap left by paying off the arrears but said it could
involve the state-owned investment holding Cassa dei Depositi e
A comprehensive package of reforms to the notoriously
sluggish justice system would be completed by June and
long-promised electoral and constitutional reforms would be in
place and ready to go before parliament by the end of March.
The Senate vote will be followed by a separate vote on
Tuesday in the lower house, where the PD has a strong majority,
wrapping up the parliamentary process required by every new