* Says 2 bln euros set aside for school buildings
* Says 1.7 bln euros ready to help unemployed youth
* Has so far struggled over new voting law
By Steve Scherer and Giuseppe Fonte
ROME, March 5 Italy's new Prime Minister Matteo
Renzi pledged on Wednesday to introduce a series of "very
important reforms" next week to help create jobs, make housing
more affordable and remodel crumbling school buildings.
The 39-year-old seized the leadership from Enrico Letta in a
party coup last month, promising to accelerate the sluggish pace
of reforms in the euro zone's third-biggest economy, which is
one of the worst-performing in the currency bloc.
"On Wednesday we will present an affordable housing plan ...
and we hope for measures on the Jobs Act," Renzi said during a
meeting with Italian mayors in Syracuse, Sicily, which was
broadcast live on television.
The government was ready to invest 2 billion euros to
improve the country's decaying school buildings, he said, and
would spend 1.7 billion euros to help fight soaring youth
unemployment, now at more than 40 percent.
The European Commission put Italy on its watch list on
Wednesday due to the country's very high public debt and weak
competitiveness, meaning it will monitor Italy's reforms and
could impose fines if they are not implemented.
In a response, the economy ministry in Rome said the reforms
promised by the government were in line with the Commission's
statement. It noted that for the past two years, Italian
governments had concentrated on stabilising public finances and
had been rewarded with a sharp lowering in borrowing costs.
"The moment has now come to place economic growth and jobs
at the centre of government action," it said.
The Italian economy grew by a marginal 0.1 percent in the
fourth quarter of last year, the first quarter-on-quarter rise
in output since the middle of 2011, and growth is expected to
remain weak this year. Overall unemployment was running at 12.9
percent in January, its highest since records began in 1977.
While Renzi did not say what parts of his so-called "Jobs
Act" would be introduced next week, he has said the government
would make it cheaper for companies to take on staff by reducing
the so-called "tax wedge", the difference between the cost of
employing a worker and the worker's take-home pay.
"The competitiveness of the Italian economy is currently
limited by the high tax wedge on labour costs, a problem the
government is preparing to take on with determination," the
economy ministry said in its statement
During a speech to parliament before he won a final
confidence vote last week, Renzi pledged a double-digit cut
during the first half of the year in the tax wedge.
The government's housing package, which has been drafted by
Infrastructure Minister Maurizio Lupi, is aimed at reducing
taxes on rental housing and providing young couples with
affordable home loans.
Renzi, who was mayor of Florence before becoming prime
minister and is not a member of parliament, has promised an
ambitious agenda for his first 100 days in office, making an
overhaul of the electoral system his first goal, though he has
so far struggled to make headway.
He wants to introduce a system that provides a clear winner
to replace the one that led to last year's deadlocked election
result, but he faces opposition by small parties within his own
coalition who fear they will not make it into parliament under
the new rules.