Italy’s ruling coalition has burst. Prime Minister Conte now needs new allies. It’s about a lot of money – and Italy’s reputation.
Perhaps Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will do the trick. His coalition has come to an end thanks to the departure of the small Italia Viva party under Matteo Renzi – but his government may remain in office. Making Renzi redundant and isolating it, looking for new supporters in parliament: Conte relies on this tactic, with the full support of the two big parties in the alliance, the Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S) and the Partito Democratico (PD), but also the small radical ones left list Liberi e Uguali (LeU – Free and Equals).
Next week Conte wants to face the vote of confidence in both houses, and then it will show whether his plan works out, whether he thwarted Renzi’s calculations, which started the government crisis in order to become the central actor in Italian politics again, even though he only had one Three percent party dictates.
Conte could then continue once. This is good news, because the pandemic has picked up speed again in Italy in recent months – not exactly the best time to tie up political energy in lengthy coalition negotiations or after a parliamentary dissolution in the election campaign. Above all, however, it is good news because the Italian government has to present its detailed reconstruction plan by April 30 if it wants to receive the 209 billion euros from the European “Next Generation EU” fund on time.
In this delicate phase, not only a huge amount of money is at stake, but also Italy’s reputation in Europe. The launch of the mega-plan “Next Generation EU” including joint European borrowing embodies a real turning point in the Union, which – unlike in the euro crisis – discovered solidarity. This was only possible because the Conte government was perceived in the European capitals as a reliable, pro-European partner.
Only the fear of new elections, of Salvini’s triumph, can now ensure Conte’s survival
The former Prime Minister and former EU Commission President Romano Prodi commented that he was “really worried” this time, because not only the resignation of a government was threatened, but “the resignation of a country”. Enrico Letta, head of government from 2013 to 2014, took the same line before the then PD chairman Matteo Renzi dumped him, just as he now wants to dump Conte. Thanks to Renzi, Letta etched, Italy once again provided “the image of the still unreliable country, pizza, spaghetti, mandolin”.
This danger would only be averted once Conte succeeded in securing his majority for the coalition by recruiting oppositional center-MPs. And the EU would be spared the nightmare of seeing Trump fan Matteo Salvini from the Lega in the office of Prime Minister after new elections.
But the emerging new coalition is neither strong nor closed. In the best case scenario, Conte can count on a wafer-thin majority in the Senate, guaranteed by parliamentarians, who can blackmail him in the future just like Renzi. In addition, the largest coalition partner M5S is in a deep crisis. In 2018, the five stars won almost 33 percent with their anti-establishment and Eurosceptic rhetoric. The current opinion polls see them cut in half.
The M5S is now firmly pro-European, but what the movement actually wants in the future is not clear to itself. As in the early days of the German Greens, the Realos are faced with a Fundi wing that the coalition sees as too tight a corset. This wing could still cause trouble for Conte and the coalition. Only the fear of new elections, of Salvini’s triumph, can secure Conte’s survival. This fear may buy him time to move on. But he must also use this time; otherwise Salvini’s victory would only be postponed.