Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of Italy’s centre-left bloc, is scheduled to meet Silvio Berlusconi’s deputies today (26 March) in an effort to form a coalition government to end a month-long impasse.
"The truth is that there is a dramatic situation… We need a government which performs miracles," Bersani said after consultations with trade unions.
President Giorgio Napolitano, whose term ends in May, invoked a so-called grand coalition on 22 March, when he gave Bersani a mandate to seek parliamentary backing.
The centre-left bloc which won a majority in the lower house but not in the Senate in the February elections has repeatedly ruled out an alliance with Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party. He has two days to overcome a shortfall of support in Parliament.
Berlusconi on Monday repeated a demand to be included in any new Italian government, but there was no sign his centre-left rival would renege on a promise not to ally with the tycoon as a way out of political stalemate.
But Bersani's Democratic Party (PD) has few other options, leaving the eurozone's third biggest economy in political limbo that is a danger for the whole currency bloc, already badly shaken by near meltdown in Cyprus.
Dealmaking in Rome
Bersani is to meet Berlusconi’s deputies, led by Angelino Alfano, head of the People of Liberty Party, in Rome.
Berlusconi resigned in late 2011 amid personal scandals and mounting economic woes.
On Monday, he has said the PD should allow his party to choose a successor to Napolitano, an 87-year-old left-winger whose term ends on May 15.
"The line is clear, either the PD changes its ideas and makes itself available for a government with the PDL to get the economy moving again and declares it is prepared to elect a moderate to the presidency, or we go back and vote," Berlusconi said in an interview with his own Canale 5 television.
Bersani's overtures to the populist Five-Star Movement have been rejected. The movement led by ex-comic Beppe Grillo says it will have nothing to do with Italy's mainstream parties, all of which it views as corrupt.
Despite that, the PD said Berlusconi's offer remained unappealing.
"Our experience is a negative one for a very simple reason. What we've seen unfortunately is that, in the end, Berlusconi thinks only of his own interests," PD deputy leader Enrico Letta told SkyTG24 television.
"Honestly, the idea that in a day after the election you can cancel out everything which has gone on in these past 20 years, we all know it's just propaganda," he said.
The respected outsider
If he cannot form a coalition, Napolitano may ask a respected figure from outside the main party system to try to form a broad-based government. The other alternative is a return to the polls.
European partners and international investors are watching the stalemate closely although so far there has been no sign of the panic that gripped markets in 2011 when Berlusconi resigned as prime minister amid a debt crisis.
However, broader problems remain in an Italy stuck in recession, with unemployment – especially among the young – at record levels, and a €2 trillion public debt vulnerable to a change of mood on the bond markets.