Italy’s Conte to carry on as prime minister as part of shaky government deal

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte arrives at the Quirinal Palace to meet President Sergio Mattarella, in Rome, Italy, 29 August 2019. EPA- [Photo: EFE/FRANCESCO AMMENDOLA / QUIRINAL PRESS OFFICE]

At the end of a second round of talks on Wednesday (28 August), the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) announced they will attempt to form a new ruling coalition with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

On Thursday (29 August), outgoing Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte received a fresh mandate from Italian President Sergio Mattarella to present a new executive team at the beginning of next week.

“It won’t be a government ‘against’ [someone] but a government to modernise the country and for the citizens,” he said after his meeting with Mattarella, adding he will get right to work on next budget.

However, the PD and M5S are not yet fully in agreement on the way forward. The two former rival parties have only agreed that Conte should continue as prime minister, but failed to address remaining issues such as the two parties’ picks for other top government jobs and drafting a government programme.

Furthermore, M5S activists will be given a chance to blow up the new coalition next week when they take a vote to approve the new coalition on the party’s e-voting platform, Rousseau.

Speaking to the press, Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio said his party’s political programme remained unchanged. “We made commitments to Italians and we are going to fulfil them,” he stressed, saying he does not disavow what the previous government has done.

The PD, for its part, wants a clean break from the past, signalling that the new government needs to mark a “turning point”.

“The only thing that brings them together is the hatred of Lega,” said far-right leader Matteo Salvini, pointing out that the new coalition does not have the “long-term prospects” that the Italian President had requested last week.

Di Maio’s role in the new executive is also still unclear. The M5S wants him to keep the deputy prime minister post while the PD still sees him as an ally of Lega.

Yesterday, Di Maio admitted that Lega had put his name forward for prime minister as part of a deal to restore the outgoing government. “I thank them sincerely, but I declined. I’m interested in what is best for my country not for myself,” he said.

Five Star founding father and comedian Beppe Grillo said in a tweet that ministers in the new government should be identified in a group of competent figures, while politicians should be appointed only as junior ministers.

The two parties also need to agree on the person who will be sent to Brussels to join the Commission of president-elected Ursula von der Leyen. Italy is the only EU country which has not communicated a name yet.

It is highly likely that the nomination of a Commissioner will be the first act of the new executive.

“We are at the beginning of a new EU legislative term and we have to make up for the lost time to provide Italy with the role it deserves,” Giuseppe Conte said after having received the mandate.

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Shaky majority

Meanwhile, the solidity of the new majority is already the subject of fierce debates among Rome watchers.

“For instance, many wonder how long it will take for Matteo Renzi to torpedo the government and kiss the PD goodbye,” said Francesco Galietti, founder of Policy Sonar, a political risk consultancy.

Former Prime Minister Renzi is still a prominent figure and a number of PD lawmakers in Parliament are more loyal to him than to the party, although he currently holds no leadership position in the PD.

What will happen now within the Five Star Movement is also of great importance, adds Galietti who says Conte has de facto stripped Di Maio of the party’s leadership.

According to Lorenzo Castellani, a political analyst and researcher at Rome’s Luiss University, there could be on certain topics such as fiscal policies, environmentalism and the labour market even closer proximity between PD and Five Star than there was with Lega.

“But I would not expect a greater uniformity on policies compared to the outgoing government,” he added, saying it will be interesting to see how the new administration will deal with old one’s policies.

“I don’t think the centre-left will ask to scrap flagship social spending policies like Five Star’s basic income and Lega’s pension reform, although they criticised both when they were at the opposition,” he said.

MEP leaves PD

Carlo Calenda, a freshly-elected Member of the European Parliament from the socialist bloc (S&D) resigned from the PD’s national board shortly before the announcement of the government deal, saying he considers the tie-up with Five Star “a waiver of PD values.”

“It was a hard and tough decision,” he explained in a letter to PD President Paolo Gentiloni and PD leader Nicola Zingaretti, “but from the day of my party membership application I made it clear that I would have left in the event of a deal with Five Star.”

Calenda told Italian television that he will not resign as an MEP nor quit the S&D group in the European Parliament, however.

Former minister seeks to shape a progressive front in Italy

Carlo Calenda, a prominent liberal democrat affiliated to centre-left Partito Democratico (PD), wants his new platform ‘Siamo Europei’ to help create a single pro-EU list for the upcoming elections. EURACTIV.com spoke with him on the sidelines of his platform’s manifesto launch in Brussels last week (19 March).

Zingaretti replied to him hoping he will reconsider remaining in the PD. But Calenda announced he wants to bring into being his own new Lib-Dem political force aimed at Italian moderates who do not recognise themselves in the new ruling coalition.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon and Benjamin Fox]

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