Italy’s Mattarella gives parties extra time to solve political crisis

Five Star Movement's assembly tasked party's leader Luigi Di Maio with starting talks with centre-left Democratic Party (PD) to form a new government. [EPA-EFE/GIANDOTTI]

President Sergio Mattarella gave political parties until Tuesday to come up with proposals for a new government coalition, saying he will call fresh elections if they fail to find a solution to the current government crisis.

“The crisis must be resolved with clear decisions and in a short time,” Mattarella said on Thursday (22 August), after a first round of talks with parliamentary groups.

Only proposals for executives that are supported by a clear Parliament majority and have an explicit political programme to rule the country will be considered, Mattarella warned.

“In lack of these conditions, the way forward is to hold new elections,” he added.

Following Mattarella’s decision, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement tasked a delegation run by party leader Luigi Di Maio with starting formal discussions with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) in order to form a new government.

Speaking to the press after his meeting with Mattarella, Di Maio listed ten essential topics that his party believes a new government should carry forward, which also constitute the ground for negotiating with other parties.

The Five Star programme includes decreasing the number of lawmakers, instigating a “fair” budget law with tax cuts and a minimum wage, reforming the justice sector and making new ‘green’ public investments.

“From the proposals and principles outlined to the President and from the words and political points set out by Di Maio, we have a framework we can definitely work on,” PD’s leader Nicola Zingaretti wrote in a note to the press late in the evening.

PD, for its part, asked the Five Star Movement to immediately discuss Italy’s budget law and match its lawmaker reduction plan with electoral reforms. It also called for scrapping Matteo Salvini’s infamous Security decrees which, among other things, provide fines on NGO ships that rescue migrants at sea.

However, choosing a new prime minister could reignite tensions between the PD and the Five Star Movement (M5S), which are long-standing foes.

The M5S is pushing to reinstate outgoing premier Giuseppe Conte while PD is calling for discontinuity with the former executive and wants a woman for the top job, which would also be the first one in the country’s history.

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Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned on Tuesday evening (20 August), despite an eleventh-hour attempt by the far-right Lega party to defuse the crisis by withdrawing a motion of no-confidence against the government.

The M5S has also not completely shut the door on its former ally, the right-wing Lega party. Luigi Di Maio said his party does not want the Parliament to be dissolved before its natural term. And he did not explicitly exclude Lega from stepping in should negotiations with the PD end up in failure.

The M5S already adopted this pragmatic approach during the last government negotiations that lead to the tie-up with Lega, and refused to rule out a coalition with the PD until the very end.

In the Italian political jargon, this kind of approach is called ‘two ovens doctrine’, an expression coined in the sixties by the Italian statesman Giulio Andreotti to mean, metaphorically, that his party Christian Democracy (DC) needed to keep alive the chances to ‘buy bread’ both from the socialist and the liberal ‘bakers’.

“If Luigi Di Maio wants to relaunch the government and the country, we are ready, without any prejudice,” said Lega’s leader Matteo Salvini, adding that his Five Star counterpart worked well and in the interest of Italy.

Salvini himself had initiated the government crisis on 8 August, after Parliament rejected a motion on the Lyon-Turin railway link put forward by the Five Star Movement, saying there was no longer a majority and calling for fresh elections.

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“Or Lega makes a serious opening to us, or from tomorrow we start to negotiate with PD for real,” said an anonymous Five Star Movement source who spoke to news agency AGI.

At the moment, there is no direct communication between Di Maio and Salvini though.

A coalition between the PD and the M5S alone is not enough to build a Parliament majority, meaning they need votes from other parliamentary groups.

Speculation has mounted in the past days over a so-called “Ursula” coalition combining the M5S, the PD and the centre-right Forza Italia. The potential coalition was named after the parties that voted for Ursula von der Leyen’s bid to become the next President of the European Commission.

However, Silvio Berlusconi said he considers a government with Five Star and PD too “leftist” to garner support from Forza Italia.

This means the M5S-PD coalition would need support from smaller parliamentary groups in order to reach the ample majority requested by President Mattarella. The leftist Liberi e uguali (LEU) and other parliamentary groups representing ethnical minorities and other non-affiliated lawmakers could become prized allies in this context.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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