21st Oct 2016

Italy must back Renzi's reforms, Obama says

  • President Obama and prime minister Renzi with their wives, Michelle Obama and Agnese Landini. (Photo: Palazzo Chigi)

US president Barack Obama lauded Italy’s prime minister Matteo Renzi in the White House on Tuesday (19 October), ahead of a referendum that will be crucial for Renzi's political future.

"Look at him," Obama said of Renzi, speaking at a joint press conference.

"He's young, handsome. He's put forth a vision of progress that's not rooted in people's fears, but rather in their hopes,” the American said.

Tuesday’s official state dinner was the last to be hosted by Obama before he leaves the White House in January.

Renzi could also soon be without a job.

He has threatened to step down if he loses a 4 December vote on constitutional change.

The bill would limit the power of the Italian senate. Renzi said it would also make it easier for Italy to fight for reform of the EU.

The Italian prime minister would like to change EU budgetary rules, which make it difficult to pursue the type of expansive politics he thinks are needed to address his country’s sluggish growth.

Polls show a majority of Italians oppose Renzi’s proposal. Opposition parties say the bill is badly written and will put too much power in the government’s hands.

Obama threw his weight behind the proposal.

"The upcoming referendum to modernise Italy’s political institutions is something the United States strongly supports because we believe that it will help accelerate Italy’s path towards a more vibrant, dynamic economy, as well as a more responsive political system," the US president said.

He agreed the EU must shift away from austerity if it wants to relaunch economic growth and create jobs.

Obama added that Renzi, in his opinion, should stay in politics no matter what the outcome of the vote.

Both leaders stressed the importance of US-Italian relations and showed admiration for each other’s policies.

"I think Matteo embodies a new generation of leadership, not just for Italy but also for Europe," Obama said. He praised Italy’s efforts to save migrants in the Mediterranean sea and fight against the Islamic State.

Italy has the second largest number of troops in Iraq, after the US.

Renzi also highlighted Obama’s merits.

“Many people think politics is only about screaming and fighting each other, creating hate and division,” Renzi said.

”You are different, Mr President. We are different,” he said.

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