By Mick Krever and Claire Calzonetti, CNN
An Italian parliamentarian who compared that country’s first-ever black cabinet minister to an orangutan “has to go,” Italy’s prime minister told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.
“It was a shock for Italy and for, of course, the public opinion,” Enrico Letta said. “You know, my choice to ask Cecile Kyenge to be minister was a choice very clear for the country. Italians have – they have to understand that the internal integration is one of the main issues for the future.”
Letta, who spoke with Amanpour in London after a meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron, said he had asked Roberto Calderoli, the vice president of Italy’s senate, to step down.
“It’s a shame,” Letta continued. “It’s really a shame, and I will continue to ask him to resign.”
It’s a controversy soon into Letta’s first term. An unlikely candidate, he assumed the office in April essentially by default, after months of political deadlock.
At just 46 years old, he is one of the youngest prime ministers in the country’s history.
And he has what can probably be considered the country’s toughest job.
Front and foremost is Italy’s ailing economy – nearly 40% of young people are out of a job.
“Youth unemployment is really my nightmare,” he told Amanpour. “We are losing a generation. And without this generation there is no hope for the future of the country.”
That is not to say, though, that Italy will need European support, Letta said.
“We don’t need any bailout,” he said, “because we are among the few virtuous countries in Europe.”
Italy does face a problem of growth, unemployment, and “general debt,” Letta admitted, but he will not be seeking assistance from the European Commission.
Nonetheless, he faces a public in Italy that is not exactly receptive to domestic government initiative. Close to 90% of Italians don’t trust their leaders, according to a Eurispes poll.
“One of the most important pillars of the activity of my government is reform of politics,” Letta told Amanpour. “We need to be very transparent, we need to be very clear.”
Italy’s parliament has close to a thousand members. That’s close to double the number of representatives in the United States, for a country one fifth as large. On top of that, many earn huge salaries and enjoy extensive perks.
Letta, in an attempt to appear down to the earth and one of the people, staged a particularly Italian photo-op as he took office: driving himself to the presidential palace in a Fiat.
Letta said that he had started the process of changing the constitution to reduce the number of parliamentarians to around four hundred, and to get rid of one of the two chambers of parliament.
Ultimately, Letta said, his thinking about the future of his country goes back to the youth.
“To see how many Italians are going out of Italy as a sort of exodus – [it is] a great generation leaving my country.”