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Italy's education minister resigns over lack of funds for ministry

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Italian Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti told Reuters on Wednesday he had resigned after failing to obtain from the government billions of euros he said were needed to improve the country's schools and universities.

[ROME] Italian Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti told Reuters on Wednesday he had resigned after failing to obtain from the government billions of euros he said were needed to improve the country's schools and universities.

The resignation is a blow to the embattled government, whose ruling parties are at odds on issues ranging from euro zone reform to migrant rights.

It also underscores the problems of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, Mr Fioramonti's party, which is trying to reorganise amid widespread internal dissatisfaction with its leader Luigi Di Maio. Mr Fioramonti told Reuters he had tendered his "irrevocable resignation" to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in a letter on Dec 23.

This month, three 5-Star senators jumped ship to join the right-wing League in opposition.

Mr Fioramonti said shortly after the government of 5-Star and the centre-left Democratic Party was formed in September that he would quit unless education spending was raised by 3 billion euros (S$4.47 billion) in the 2020 budget.

Few believed him, even as the budget continued its passage through parliament and it became clear the government had little intention of hiking taxes or cutting spending to find the funds he demanded. The budget was approved on Monday ahead of a Dec 31 deadline.

"It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that a minister keeps his word," Mr Fioramonti told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.

Mr Fioramonti said he would still support the government in parliament, where he is a lower house deputy.

Italy spends 3.6 per cent of gross domestic product on primary to university education, compared with an average of 5 per cent among 32 countries in a report by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development. As a proportion of public spending, Italy came bottom in the OECD.

Mr Fioramonti, a former economics professor at South Africa's Pretoria University, has been one of Italy's most outspoken ministers during his three months in office.

His proposals for new taxes on airline tickets, plastic and sugary foods to raise funds for education were attacked by critics who said Italians were already over-taxed.

A vocal supporter of green policies, Mr Fioramonti made headlines when he announced Italy would next year become the first country to make it compulsory for schoolchildren to study climate change and sustainable development.

Earlier this month he said Italian energy giant ENI should halt oil exploration and focus on renewable energy.

"I have sometimes felt I could have had more support from my own party over my proposals on the environment," Mr Fioramonti said.

"5-Star was born 10 years ago with a strongly green platform, but it seems to have got lost along the way."

REUTERS