Italy's growth prospects 'weak in real terms' says S&P

(ANSA) - Prospects for growth in the Italian economy "remain weak both in real and nominal terms," Standard & Poor's said Friday, after announcing the agency's "BBB" credit rating for Italy remains unchanged.

S&P issued the statement explaining its negative outlook on Italy's prospects after raising former economic basket case Ireland's rating from "BBB+" to "A-".

"The modest prospects for growth in Italy reflect the uncertain progress of the reforms carried out by its three previous governments," S&P said. As for current Premier Matteo Renzi, who has lunged into reforms initiatives geared at boosting growth and streamlining the political system since assuming office in February, the ratings agency noted his "important progress on budget and structural reforms". "But despite the encouraging intentions of the Italian executive," it added, "it's too soon to judge how much can be done and when".

Berlusconi risks house arrest if keeps 'defaming' judges

(ANSA) - The prosecutor who asked a Milan court to let Silvio Berlusconi serve a 10-month sentence for tax fraud doing community service has warned that the ex-premier will be put under house arrest instead if he defames magistrates, reports said Friday.

The ruling on what kind of punishment the center-right leader will receive, which is expected within the next two weeks, will be key in determining what role Berlusconi will play in the coming year.

If he has to do house arrest, it would seriously curb his ability to lead his center-right opposition Forza Italia (FI) party ahead of May 25 European elections, a key test for it.

The choice is between house arrest or community service as the charismatic 77-year-old is too old to go to jail under standard Italian legal practice. The media magnate has repeatedly blasted judges in the past.

He says the tax-fraud ruling, which led to him being ejected from the Senate in November, is part of a two-decade campaign by left-wing elements in the judiciary to sweep him out of Italy's public life.

On Wednesday he complained that the left had used its "judicial arm" to stop him running in the European elections. Lamanna reportedly told the court that, under standing legislation, community service "can be revoked" if the three-time premier defames "individual judges".

If Berlusconi is allowed to do community service, he would likely be free to be out and about from 8 am until 11 pm, judicial sources said Friday. The sources said that in "standard" cases in which a convict is ordered to serve a sentence doing community service, judges give few limits to freedom of movement and action and Berlusconi would probably only need to seek permission to leave the Lombardy region around Milan or neighboring regions. Berlusconi has already had his passport confiscated.

On Thursday Berlusconi's defence team asked the court for him to be able to campaign for FI for the European elections, which he cannot vote in as a result of the conviction. Berlusconi was sentenced to four years in prison in the tax-fraud case, but only 10 months of that remain to be served as the rest was covered by amnesties.

Renzi pushes back against wave of criticism

(ANSA) - Rome - Italian Premier Matteo Renzi on Friday spoke out against a wave of criticism that has hit his fledgling government, calling it "ridiculous". "I don't understand on what grounds they're attacking us since we haven't really started yet," he told Italian daily La Stampa. Renzi, whose government was sworn in less than a month ago, said confidence in the government was "growing" despite criticism over electoral-law reform, State finances and some undersecretaries with legal problems. He said he was "ready to talk with anyone" over four undersecretaries he has defended despite their being under investigation on allegations ranging from embezzlement to fiddling expenses. On the EU's criticism of serious imbalances in the economy and risks to fiscal consolidation, he said former economy minister Fabrizio Saccomanni "told us about it, so I don't understand the attacks."

Responding to the criticism later in the day, Renzi tweeted that "Italy can be changed, but the mindset of those living with their prejudices can't". The new government's credibility is on the line over a reform that would see the Senate transformed into a leaner assembly of local-government representatives stripped of law-making powers. Renzi is hopeful the new election law will be passed in the Lower House quickly and then win definitive approval in the Senate shortly after. Its passage in the House suffered a small setback this week when a vote was postponed to next week, slowing down the 39-year-old premier's fast pace. Reforming the Senate is expected to take much longer - over a year as it requires amending the Constitution, which is a far more lengthy process. In the interview, Renzi also said "we will start seeing results" when more details will be revealed on a planned labour reform after a council of ministers scheduled next Wednesday. Renzi said last week that reducing Italy's unemployment rate must be his government's first priority after the latest figures showed that unemployment in January hit a record 12.9%. Youth unemployment also rose to 42.4% in January, the highest since 1977, according to a preliminary estimate released last week by national statistics bureau Istat.

New polls on Friday also reflected waning support for Renzi, the leader of the center-left Democratic Party, who is seen to represent the party's more moderate members. After a surge in confidence last week in his government, a new survey published by polling institute Ixe' showed that trust in the premier has dropped over the past week to 55%, down seven percentage points. Confidence in the government also dropped to 50%, down six points on last week's 56%, according to the survey carried out on behalf of Agora', a program of State broadcaster Rai. But the data also said he remains the country's most popular politician on the national scene. President Giorgio Napolitano ranked second behind the premier at 42% as a trustworthy leader indicated by the 1,000 people polled by Ixe', followed by ex-premier Enrico Letta at 40%.

Support for the leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, Beppe Grillo, dropped by four points to 27% while confidence in three-time ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi dropped 1% to 21%. Confidence in New Center Right (NCD) leader Angelino Alfano went down four points to 20%.

Italian premier strikes UAE deals for Milan Expo 2015

ANSA - Italian Premier Enrico Letta on visits to Abu Dhabi and Dubai struck a bundle of agreements with authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for progress in upcoming world fairs in the two countries, trade, tourism and energy.

Two agreements signed in Dubai concern Universal Expositions Milan Expo 2015 and Dubai Expo 2020 to lower customs barriers between the two countries for the next two world fairs.

In keeping with the effort to use Milan Expo 2015 as a platform for trade and policy promotion, an agreement signed in Abu Dhabi between Gruppo Cremonini Inalca and the UAE sovereign fund Emirates Advanced Investment Group will create an innovative technological platform to import and distribute Italian agrifood products in the Gulf and throughout the Middle East.

The theme of Milan Expo 2015 is ''Feeding the planet.

Energy for life'', which runs May 1 to October 31 next year, and deals with food security, combating hunger, and promoting environmentally, socially and economically sustainable global food production practices. A fourth agreement deals with city water treatment and environmental protection, opening cooperation in public bids between the two countries.

Moreover, a letter of intent was also signed between the Perugia-based pollution research centre Ciriaf and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology to develop sustainable ''roof cooling'' technology.

A working demonstration of the UAE's Masdar City - an entirely sustainable, clean-energy enclave - will be on show at Milan Expo 2015, where the UAE's pavilion will be built following sustainability principles such as rainwater recovery, recycled materials and solar panels, demonstrating the relationship between water, food and energy.

Other agreements dealt with building a floating, one-million-barrel oil tank; a partnership between Italian and UAE based hotels; and an accord between Italian and UAE culture authorities.

Environmental sustainability is playing a key role too in Milan Expo 2015's official coins and medals, presented Friday at the international World Money Fair in Berlin. Milan Expo's Eco Coins are made in recycled metals - gold, silver and colored titanium. Milan Expo is also producing experimental ''intelligent'' card-coins, and special edition pink metal coins for ''We Women for Expo''.

Milan Expo 2015 will also present two of the biggest coins in the world to the two presidents of the Berlin numismatic fair - each measuring 15 cm across.

Produced by minters of euro coinage, the big Expo coins represent the unity of the continents, with depictions of five trees from each of the five continents.

Piano, Rubbia, Abbado, Cattaneo named Senators for life

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Friday named four Senators for life, a power held by the head of State under the Constitution to appoint permanent members to the Upper House who have shown extraordinary scientific, social or artistic merit.

Famed architect Renzo Piano, Nobel laureate particle physicist Carlo Rubbia, world-renowned music conductor Claudio Abbado and pharmacology professor and stem-cell expert Elena Cattaneo are to be given lifetime Senate seats.

Napolitano notified Senate Speaker Pietro Grasso of the nominations, which required decrees signed also by Premier Enrico Letta.

The president telephoned each of the candidates to inform and congratulate them personally.

The appointments take the number of life Senators back up to five.

Former Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and ex-premier Mario Monti were left as the only two life Senators after the deaths this past year of former statesman Giulio Andreotti, ex-premier Emilio Colombo and car designer Sergio Pininfarina.

Claudio Abbado, 80, has conducted many of the world's leading orchestras. He has served as music director at the La Scala opera house in Milan, principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, music director of the Vienna State Opera, principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and, from 1989 to 2002, principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic.

Awards and honors received by Abbado include two Grammy awards and four honorary doctorates. In April 2012, he was voted into the Gramaphone Hall of Fame. Abbado has also taken an active role in promoting young musical talent by founding new orchestras, like the European Youth Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the Mozart Orchestra.

Genoese architect Renzo Piano, 75, has worked on the designs of many of the globe's modern landmarks, including London's Shard skyscraper, the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris, Potzdammer Platz masterplan in Berlin, the Kansai airport in Japan, the Nemo Science Museum in Amsterdam, and the New York Times building in Manhattan.

In addition to winning architecture's coveted Pritzker Prize, Piano has received the Kyoto Prize, Amsterdam's Erasmus award, the RIBA Gold Medal, the Sonning Prize, and the AIA Gold Medal, among other honours. He has been UNESCO's goodwill ambassador for cities since 1994.

In 2004 he founded the Renzo Piano Foundation, a non-profit organization for supporting young architects based in Genoa.

Elena Cattaneo, born in 1962, earned her doctorate in pharmacology from Milan University and became a full professor in 2003. Cattaneo for three years researched brain stem cells in a laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston.

Upon returning to Italy, she founded - and now directs - a Milan University laboratory for stem-cell research in neurodegenerative diseases, devoting herself to the study of Huntington's disease, a genetically transmitted, neurodegenerative disease. Cattaneo has been Italy's national representative for genetic and biotechnological research in the European Union. She led the European NeuroStemcell project, a 12-million-euro, four-year consortium to develop stem-cell-based therapies for Huntington's and Parkinson's diseases. From October 2013, Cattaneo will be coordinating the NeuroStemcellrepair project under the European Commission's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). Particle physicist and Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia, born in 1934, has been a researcher at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, since 1961, and served as its managing director from 1989 to 1993. He has also been a physics professor at Harvard University for 18 years.

Rubbia shared the Nobel prize for physics in 1984 with Simon van der Meer for their 1983 discovery of the W and Z particles, carrier particles that mediate weak nuclear force. W particles have a role in nuclear decay. Z particles are their own antiparticles.

Rubbia holds 32 honorary degrees in addition to his doctorate from Columbia University in New York City and undergraduate degree from the Scuola Normale of Pisa.