The Brief – Mattarella’s Hodgepodge conjecture

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

Cracking one of the unsolved Millennium Prize Problems entitles talented mathematicians to a $1 million reward. Venerable Italian President Sergio Mattarella has an even more difficult equation to solve as government-forming talks seem futile.

Six weeks after Italy’s elections, the country is nowhere near having a government. Some of you may say that a month or so is no time at all in Italian politics and look how long it took Angela Merkel to get her chess pieces all lined up.

But it’s looking more and more like trying to put a round peg in a square hole or getting all your chickens safely across the river, along with your corn and fox.

To sum up as succinctly as I possibly can: the populist Five Star Movement was the single largest party in the vote, has abandoned its no coalition policy but will not work with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party.

Matteo Salvini’s far-right Lega doesn’t want to have anything to do with the Democrats and is insistent on Forza Italia being a part of any deal (probably just as well because Berlusconi appears to have lost his mind).

Forza Italia would get into bed with the Democrats, has a sour relationship with Di Maio’s Five Star and is equally tied to Lega.

The Democrats essentially want all three to form a government by themselves, leaving the PD to sit back in the opposition and (if the plan goes as expected) watch as infighting and, maybe, incompetence, trigger an early election next year.

Really, they are happy to sit back and fiddle while Rome burns, after a long period of being attacked constantly by their rivals.

Not surprisingly, after a second round of talks intended to break some of those red lines ended in stalemate again this week, Sergio Mattarella, who will appoint the next PM, said there had been no progress.

True, there have been concessions in recent days, with Five Star and Lega agreeing on the head of Italy’s lower house. But this is like agreeing what colour to paint the ship while it starts to take on water.

Mattarella is of the opinion that Italy “urgently” needs a government. The situation in Syria, exacerbated by Donald Trump’s ridiculous tweeting (oh, the ‘pee tape’ might be real by the way), and the ongoing row with Russia probably weigh heavy on the head of state’s mind.

But he’s put on a brave face and said he would decide how to proceed next week. That could mean more talks but it looks like little will change between now and then.

Both Salvini and Di Maio want to be PM but both also want to exclude the parties that will allow them to form a majority. It seems that three into two just won’t go.

Scottish mathematician William Hodge came up with his ‘Hodge conjecture’ way back in the 1940s and no one has solved it yet. Hopefully, Italy won’t take that long to form a decent government.

The Roundup

EU cohesion policy is teetering on the brink of budget cuts but it’s helped out Greece immensely. The EU is often accused of dillydallying when faced with international crises but that could soon change…

We really need to save the bees. A new study has made the business case for protecting our winged friends. A vote at the end of the month on banning some insecticides may go some way towards that. UN countries also agreed to cut emissions from shipping.

Check out this op-ed on an interesting EU enlargement idea: every Balkan candidate must join at the same time. It could help heal rifts in the region and promote cross-border cooperation, the author argues.

One country that wouldn’t take kindly to that plan is Montenegro, seen as a membership frontrunner and which is electing a new president on Sunday.

A truly European round of semi-finals awaits in the Champions League, after the draw revealed Roma will play Liverpool and Bayern Munich will face Real Madrid. Maybe a Roma victory will inspire Italy to get a government together…

Look out for…

Strasbourg week. Emmanuel Macron rolls into Alsace to regale MEPs with his hopes for EU reform. The Facebook debacle will get a look-in too.

Views are the author’s

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