Now the head of the Democratic Party of Italy, newly minted Italian Prime Minister-appointee Enrico Letta has come into the political foreground after spending much of his career in a supporting role: He served in various secretarial and ministerial roles for research outfits and non-governmental organizations, until in 1998, at age 32, he became minister for European policies, the youngest Cabinet minister ever in Italian postwar politics. President Giorgio Napolitano, who at 88 was just re-elected to a second seven-year term, appointed him on Wednesday to try to form a majority in Parliament, saying Letta "belongs to a young generation by Italian standards."

Under the Italian Constitution, Letta must find a majority to support his agenda in both the House and Senate, and once he has secured that, must get a vote of confidence from both houses. Therein lies the rub; the center-left coalition Letta belongs to got a majority of seats in the House in the February election, but does not have a majority in the Senate. The only way for Letta to put together a governing coalition would be either to get support from former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom center-right coalition, or to score some unlikely supporters in comedian Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement, which garnered a surprising 25 per cent of the vote.

Given Letta's staunch pro-European Union history and Grillo's distaste for the euro, a currency he's said repeatedly Italy should leave, the latter scenario seems unlikely.     

Letta, the Democrats' former deputy leader, is taking over from Pier Luigi Bersani, who resigned in the wake of the latest general elections, which left essentially a four-way tie among the center-left Democrats, Berlusconi’s PdL coalition, Grillo's Five Star Movement, and the centrist Civic Choice party. Bersani was left crippled by his inability to form an effective coalition.

Letta may find some common ground with Berlusconi in their shared pasison for soccer. Letta -- third from left in the back row in the photo above -- is an avid player and supports AC Milan, a team that happens to be owned by none other than Berlusconi himself. 


Letta is expected to breathe some new life into a political system that he himself has said “has lost all credibility.”


Letta is married to Gianna Fregonara, a political journalist who works at Corriere della Sera of Milan, the country's largest newspaper. They have three children, Giacomo, Lorenzo and Francesco.