Dispute over EU corona funds in Italy: an acid test for the government

Italy’s coalition was a stopgap solution from the start. The quarrel about the money from the Recovery Fund could lead to a permanent break.

Distribution struggles in Rome Photo: Vincenzo Livieri / ZUMA Wire / dpa

ROM taz | Is Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and his coalition facing the end – or is he making a fresh start? The answer could already be given at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday. It will be supplied by the small party Italia Viva (IV) of the former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, which has threatened to break the coalition for more than a month if Conte does not meet it on numerous points.

Renzi had started his campaign against Conte in early December. The main subject of the dispute was the Recovery Fund, the reconstruction plan for which Italy is to receive 209 billion euros from the EU budget. Renzi was bothered by the content of the plan as well as by Conte’s ideas of how the government should manage the use of resources. Renzi is demanding a significant increase in funds earmarked for health care, schools and infrastructure. At the same time, he vetoed Conte’s plan to entrust management to a six-person committee of experts; this would largely slow down the cabinet and coalition, he complained. Renzi also threatens day after day that the two ministers of his party will resign if there is no agreement.

The center-left government, which has been in office since September, is facing its greatest ordeal since it was formed in September 2019. At that time, the head of the right-wing populist League, Matteo Salvini, had the first Conte government burst, which the League side with the anti-establishment -Kraft Movimento5Stelle (M5S – 5-Star Movement) saw. Salvini wanted new elections to be quick and then to become head of government himself.

But to his surprise, the two arch enemies, the M5S and the moderately left Partito Democratico (PD), agreed on a new coalition, which also included the small, radical left list Liberi e Uguali (LeU – Free and Equals). Especially Matteo Renzi, then still in the PD, had favored this new alliance, which was born as a purely negative coalition against the Lega.

But as soon as the new government was in place, Renzi split the PD and founded his own small association, Italia Viva, which, however, remained in the ruling coalition with four partners. The fact that the government has been holding on since then was not least due to the fact that it was quickly confronted with the corona emergency – and that the two big partners M5S and PD largely pulled together in taking measures against the pandemic and its social consequences. Above all, Conte experienced a significant increase in popularity during the pandemic.

As in summer 2019, it is again a Matteo, now Renzi instead of Salvini, who is sawing on Conte’s chair

Renzi, on the other hand, is faced with the fact that his party does not come out of the polls low of 2 to 3 percent. His answer is now that he wants to give Italia Viva more profile in the alliance, if necessary with an all-out coalition conflict.

Therefore, Conte suspects that Renzi is less concerned with the content than with replacing the Prime Minister. And as in the summer of 2019, it is again a Matteo, this time Renzi instead of Salvini, who is sawing Conte’s chair. A possible solution is a resignation of Conte and then immediately the formation of a successor government with the same partners and the same head of government, but a completely renewed cabinet. But Conte does not trust this solution, since he suspects that Renzi could then pull the demand for a change at the top of the government out of his hat. If a last-minute agreement is not reached, there is a risk of new elections, which could mean the political end for Renzi’s party.

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