Italy’s government crisis comes to the boil

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will clear the air on the political crisis gripping his coalition as he is expected to announce his resignation today (20 August), opening a new period of political uncertainty for the eurozone’s third-largest economy.

Conte will address the Senate this afternoon at 3 pm but it is not clear yet whether he will resign immediately afterwards or choose to wait for the outcome of a no-confidence vote put forward by the Lega party, his far-right coalition partner.

In his speech, Conte is widely expected to drop the hammer on Lega leader Matteo Salvini. In a letter published last week, the Italian Premier delivered a scathing attack against the far-right party leader, accusing him of  “disloyalty” and being “obsessed” with immigration.

If Conte doesn’t resign, Salvini will push for a vote of no-confidence. A snap election could come at the end of October and allow Salvini to capitalise on polls suggesting the League might get 36-38% of votes.

President Sergio Mattarella is now expected to start consultations with political parties in Parliament before considering his next move.

A wide range of options are still available, including the continuation of the current government, forming a new coalition without holding new elections or the organisation of a snap general election.

On Sunday (18 August), the ruling Five Star Movement (M5S) released a note to the press saying it could consider resurrecting the alliance with Lega, in return for Salvini’s ousting from power.

The most likely scenario, in the event that no elections are held, is an agreement between the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and the anti-establishment M5S to form a new government. But an ultra-conservative majority with the far-right Lega, the right-wing Fratelli d’Italia and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia is also a possibility.

If Mattarella is not satisfied with negotiations among political parties, he could decide to appoint a caretaker government to vote on the budget and organise elections in 2020. He could also immediately call fresh elections in October or November.

A European crisis

The government crisis dates back to 7 August, when Lega voted down a non-binding motion presented by the Five Star Movement asking for works on the Lyon-Turin railway link to be stopped.

Tensions within the ruling coalition surged after the European elections, when the balance of power between Italy’s two ruling parties turned in Lega’s favour. Salvini’s far-right party doubled its score from last year’s 17.35% to 33.6%, while the Five Star Movement crumbled from 32.68% to 16.70%.

The coalition rift turned to open warfare when Salvini’s Lega made a last-minute decision not to back Ursula von der Leyen’s bid to become the next President of the European Commission.

While the Five Star Movement, the opposition Democratic Party (S&D) and Forza Italia (EPP) all backed von der Leyen, Salvini openly accused M5S of betraying the country’s national interest by supporting the German woman’s bid for the European Commission.

Salvini withdrew his support for von der Leyen at the last minute “because she could no longer ensure that Italy’s Commissioner would be appointed from Lega,” Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio later revealed.

PD enters the fray

Salvini opened the crisis the day after Parliament rejected the motion on the Lyon-Turin railway link, saying there was no longer a majority and calling for fresh elections.

M5S fought back denouncing Lega’s tactics to captialise on favourable opinion polls. “He is overthrowing the government because he puts election polls over the country’s interests,” Di Maio said.

But the crisis has not developed the way Salvini had hoped. Indeed, rather than going to the polls, the Five Star Movement is now considering forming a new coalition with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

Probably alarmed by this perspective, Salvini recently made a U-turn declaring that, without fresh elections, the M5S and Lega should go back to work together.

An agreement with PD remains problematic for the Five Star Movement, which considers the centre-left party and particularly former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi their “first enemies.”

Although PD and Five Star founding fathers, Romano Prodi and Beppe Grillo, publicly advocated in favour of an agreement, the two parties have competing views on issues like the environment and social rights.


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