The Italians have seen so many government crises that no variation in the genre can surprise them anymore – actually. But this, the now openly declared crisis of the government of Giuseppe Conte, is a mystery to professional analysts and just a nuisance for many citizens.
First of all, she is incredibly badly timed. In the middle of the second wave of the pandemic. And in the middle of the phase when one should devote oneself to the formulation of a reconstruction plan, which must be so urgently in place, even if the social and economic consequences of the epidemic are becoming dramatically apparent. For this purpose, the EU has awarded 209 billion euros in grants and loans, more money than any other country. It offers a historic opportunity to reshape Italy, to modernize it in one go.
And now it’s “crisi”, caused by Matteo Renzi and his party Italia Viva. It’s small, in the surveys it weighs around three percent. But in parliament, its 18 senators and 30 MPs are decisive. Especially in the Senate, with its narrow majorities, a medium migration of defectors from the opposition would be necessary to replace the Renzians. It is also stupid that you can afford a crisis “al buio”, i.e. in the dark, without any directional sign: after every bend, there is a risk of falling. In the jargon of Italian government crises, there is also the “piloted crisis”, where one agrees who will be prime minister, and only when it is clear that he has a secure majority, one goes into parliament and counts the votes. But even that is not certain.
New elections are only theoretically an option
In purely theoretical terms, it is therefore possible that the overcoming of this crisis will fail and the President will have to dissolve the chambers and call new elections. But probably only theoretically. It is much more likely that everyone will find their senses. For the noble well-being of the country – Italy simply cannot afford political peril. And for yourself: who is putting their well-paid mandate in parliament at risk after half a legislative period?
If there were elections soon, the right wing would probably win, the Lega of Matteo Salvini and the Fratelli d’Italia of Giorgia Meloni. That’s what the polls say. It is a trump, sovereign, anti-European right. However, she did not earn any great merits during the pandemic. Salvini’s errors and U-turns cost him a lot of favor. His Lega lost ground, from which, however, the post-fascist brothers of Italy benefit. And so suddenly Salvini is no longer so drawn to the polls, at least he doesn’t scream for it.
A political overthrow in Rome would be a shame, also from a Brussels perspective. For the first time in a long time, Italian support for the EU has risen significantly again. Of course that has to do with the Recovery Fund, with that great warmth after the cold at the beginning of the epidemic, when Italy felt alone. Conte turned out to be a European, and that was anything but foreseeable. He used the good contacts of the government partners of the Partito Democratico and achieved more against the promise of reforms than had been expected in Italy. If this new spirit vanished now, even the nationalists would come to power – it would be a shame, a colossal waste.
Rome, Brussels If there is one thing Italy cannot afford at the moment, it is a crippling power vacuum: a nine percent economic slump, national debt rises to one and a half times economic output, companies are unproductive, health and education systems are underfinanced. But Italy’s ex-prime minister Matteo Renzi has now pushed his country into this power vacuum when he left the ruling coalition with his small party Italia Viva.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte tries to avoid new elections, speaks to possible new supporters who could secure him a majority in the Italian parliament. Renzi and his two ministers terminated the alliance with the Social Democrats and the Five Star Movement on Wednesday evening because they could not agree on the amount and use of the European aid money, which Italy’s economy urgently needs. The payment of the same aid could now be delayed considerably.
There is now also a big question mark behind the next national Corona aid package for companies particularly affected by the pandemic. The companies that were already hard hit would suffer. The companies had hoped for a quick upswing after the sharp slump last year. That could now be strangled by political squabbles. Even the specter of new elections is already haunted, which could bring the country a broad right-wing majority – with the League of ex-Interior Minister Matteo Salvini as leader.
“The clock is ticking for Italy,” says Markus Ferber, economic policy spokesman for the EPP group in the European Parliament. The later Rome submits a satisfactory development plan to Brussels, the longer it will take for the funds to arrive in Italy – “those responsible in the Italian government should be aware of this”.
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There is great concern in the EU about the break in the coalition. “Especially in the pandemic it is important that Italy has a government capable of acting,” says the CSU politician.
Debts grow by 22 million euros – per hour
The political crisis hits Italy in an economically extremely fragile phase. The country has still not recovered from the euro crisis in more than ten years. According to estimates by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Italy’s economic strength will not have reached the pre-crisis level of 2008 even in 2025.
The national debt has stubbornly stuck to around 135 percent of economic output in recent years. None of the governments has managed to get down from the huge mountain of debt, which is now over 2.5 trillion euros.
Then came the pandemic. Debt grows and grows – currently by 22 million euros per hour. As a result of the corona crisis, it will rise to more than 160 percent of gross domestic product, the IMF estimates. Italy would soon be playing in a league with countries like Eritrea and Lebanon. In Europe only the Greeks exceed this debt level.
The eighth largest economy in the world was hit particularly hard by Corona. More than 80,000 people have died from or with the virus. In relation to the number of inhabitants, only Belgium has an even higher death rate worldwide. The military vehicles that transported coffins en masse through Lombardy in the spring are etched into the country’s memory forever.
The lockdown that Premier Conte imposed for more than two months in March was one of the toughest in Europe – including a production freeze for most companies. The manufacturing industry has recovered to some extent and is optimistic about the coming months.
Tourism, which normally contributes a good 14 percent to the gross domestic product with its suppliers, almost came to a standstill last year. The industry association Federturismo is assuming a decline in sales of 80 percent compared to the previous year for hotels alone.
Due to the political quarrels, the payment of what is now the fifth Corona aid package for industries particularly suffering from the pandemic could be delayed. The government wants to adopt a supplementary budget for this, around 24 billion more than previously are planned, including for the procurement of further vaccines. However, experts assume that a resigned government would no longer be able to propose such a large sum to parliament.
The great hope rests on further vaccines
Italy’s economy contracted sharply last year. The latest estimates assume a minus of almost nine percent. For this year, the economists from the statistical institute Istat expect a plus of four percent. However, the unemployment rate is also expected to rise, from 9.4 to eleven percent.
One of the reasons for this: In April, the cancellation ban imposed by the government at the beginning of the pandemic expires. After all, private consumption makes optimistic: While the Italians initially put their money aside during the crisis and drove the savings rate of private households to 19 percent at times, they have been spending more again since September. The stricter corona regulations in winter mainly affect retailers again.
The corona vaccinations started at least give hope that the pandemic will end soon. Italy wants all its citizens to be immunized by autumn. This calculation will only work if the vaccine candidates from Astra-Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson are also approved in the summer. There are many uncertainties, to which the political one is now added.
“The current economic situation in Italy is characterized by the pandemic and uncertainty about the future”, says Jörg Buck, head of the German-Italian Chamber of Commerce in Milan. “What our companies need now is a strategy for the reconstruction plan and its implementation so that Italy and its European partners, especially Germany, can return to growth.”
Italy urgently needs the money from Brussels to tackle decades-old problems: the health system is just as underfunded as education. Business productivity is far too low. The administration works too inefficiently and too analog. Italy ranks at the bottom of the Digital Economy and Society Index, only ahead of Romania, Greece and Bulgaria. Digital signatures are hardly possible, there is a lot of paperwork at the offices.
The judiciary works too slowly, and many processes simply become statute-barred. At the same time, youth unemployment is almost 30 percent.
Renzi flashed a glimmer of hope
“Without national plans, which reforms are to be financed with 200 billion EU funds in Italy, and appropriate controls, no money can flow,” warns Andreas Schieder, head of the Austrian Social Democrats delegation in the European Parliament.
It is worrying for the entire Union if a country like Italy cannot benefit from the gigantic aid program – “and so falls behind in the reconstruction”. The inadequate productivity rates could not be remedied by European monetary and fiscal policy alone, warns the FDP MEP Moritz Körner.
Renzi let through at least one glimmer of hope, despite all the dissent: As soon as the government’s reconstruction plan is voted on, his party Italia Viva would vote in favor. It will soon become clear whether Prime Minister Conte can really still trust his old partner: the use of EU aid will be debated in parliament on Monday.
Italy has proven over decades that it has always been able to spend EU money despite regular government crises, says MEP Körner. But even if Parliament were to wave through the spending list, there is fear in Italy that Brussels will not be able to pay off in the middle of a vacuum.
More: Italy must avoid new elections at all costs – one comment
Rom Matteo Renzi has to endure a lot of malice on Twitter. Under the hashtag #Renzivergogna (in German: Renzi Schande), the 46-year-old is shown either as a riot in the US Capitol or as a baby with building blocks – which are not from Lego, but from “L’ego” – Italian for “the ego “.
The former prime minister has dominated Italian politics for weeks: with threats, ultimatums and personal attacks on his successor Giuseppe Conte. It is still a mystery what the leader of the dwarf party Italia Viva actually wants. What is clear is only what he does not want: to continue to support the current government. On Wednesday evening, Renzi dropped his political bomb – and withdrew his two ministers from the cabinet after the dispute over EU aid. In the middle of the health crisis, which has already caused almost 80,000 corona deaths, Renzi is now giving the country a political one.
The current situation is difficult to convey to the Italian people. According to a survey by the polling institute Ipsos, 46 percent of citizens do not understand the government crisis. 73 percent of those surveyed believe that Renzi is only pursuing his personal interests – or those of his party. Just 13 percent think that the ex-prime minister is acting in the interests of the country.
The senator from Florence was right in his criticism of the content: Italy’s first draft for the EU reconstruction fund was not very ambitious, included too many old projects, and had no clear focus on investments. The new version that the cabinet decided after Renzi’s Christmas threats is definitely the better one. Renzi could have booked that as a success. But he bit into the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the billions of which he wanted to tap for the health system. It was clear from the start that the co-governing five-star movement would not move away from its no to the ESM.
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Right block at 46 percent
Prime Minister Conte now has to find a new majority in both chambers of parliament. Even if there are MPs there who do not belong to any parliamentary group, some opposition politicians are likely to be needed for an “alliance of those responsible”. Alternatively, there is already speculation about a non-partisan government of experts, which President Sergio Mattarella could convene.
If none of these scenarios work, the country would face new elections. The opposition is already scratching its feet. According to a survey on Monday, which the TV broadcaster “La7” commissioned, the right-wing populist Lega around former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini would be the strongest force in parliament with 23 percent. Even the right-wing national Fratelli d’Italia would get 17 percent more votes than the five-star rating. In addition, there would be around six percent of Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative Forza Italia. With a total of 46 percent, the way is not far to a right-wing majority.
That would not be good news for Europe and the world. Under Conte, the country has shown itself to be a reliable partner. The non-party lawyer appeared as a persistent negotiator vis-à-vis Brussels, especially in the dispute over the Corona development fund. Nevertheless, he was always pro-European, emphasizing several times that Europe owed the historic opportunity to be able to redesign the country with the many billions.
In the right-wing bloc, on the other hand, there are EU skeptics like Salvini, who has already proclaimed the “Italexit” based on the British model and railed against migrants, plus a party leader in Fratelli leader Giorgia Meloni who has never officially distanced herself from fascism. The ray of hope in this trio would then actually be an 84-year-old political warrior whose party demands more political competencies for Europe and works with the CDU in the EU Parliament: Silvio Berlusconi.
More: Matteo Renzi’s party withdraws from the government. Why the center-left coalition broke up.
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
ROMtaz | 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.
The ruling coalition in Italy has burst. The small coalition partner Italia Viva of former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced its support on Wednesday evening and withdrew his two ministers from the cabinet. The coalition of 5-star movement and social democrats (Partito Democratico, PD) under the non-party Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte no longer has a sufficient majority in parliament.
Renzi had threatened the move for some time because of a dispute over the award of the corona aid promised by the EU. Conte’s plans received government approval on Tuesday. But Renzi is at odds with Conte on other issues as well. He demanded that Italy should apply for a loan from the euro zone rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), to strengthen the health care system. The five-star movement, the largest coalition partner, rejects such a step.
One scenario after a government break could be a major cabinet reshuffle – with or without Conte as head of government. It is also conceivable that Conte is looking for other supporters for his government. To do this, he would have to find 25 MPs among the 630 MPs in the lower house and 18 among the 315 senators. Another scenario would be a new election in which Matteo Salvini’s right-wing populist League could gain strength. It is also conceivable that President Sergio Mattarella would form a government of national unity.
Renzi, who was prime minister of a center-left government and PD chairman, founded Italia Viva in autumn 2019. Now he is trying to regain momentum for his party in the center, which currently only comes to two to three percent in surveys.
It was “brave” to withdraw from the government at such a time. “We don’t play,” said Renzi, “democracy isn’t a thing reality show“More must be done to address problems with education or infrastructure in addition to the corona virus. Renzi did not rule out supporting a new government formed by Conte, but only if the right-wing League of Matteo Salvini was not on board.” .
All offers and calls for reconciliation were ultimately unsuccessful: As widely expected, the former head of government Matteo Renzi and chairman of the small party Italia Viva (IV) broke the left-wing coalition in Rome on Wednesday. In the evening, Renzi announced that the two IV ministers Teresa Bellanova (agriculture) and Elena Bonetti (family and equal opportunities) as well as Foreign State Secretary Ivan Scalfarotto would resign from their offices. Renzi blamed Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte for the failure of the coalition because the non-party head of government systematically ignored the reform proposals put forward by IV months ago.
Political correspondent for Italy, the Vatican, Albania and Malta, based in Rome.
On Wednesday morning, Conte went to see President Sergio Mattarella at his official residence on Quirinal Hill to talk about possible ways out of the government crisis. Mattarella had repeatedly made it clear in recent weeks that he believed early parliamentary elections in the midst of the pandemic to be the wrong way to go and called on the coalition parties to resolve their disputes quickly.
After the conversation with Mattarella, Conte had offered his adversary Renzi to put the cooperation in the government alliance of the left-wing populist five-star movement, social democrats and another small party, in office since September 2019, on a new foundation. The aim must be to forge a solid alliance of all previous coalition partners by the end of the legislative period in spring 2023.
Earlier, Conte had indicated that if the left-wing coalition failed, he could try to continue to govern with changing majorities. This scenario is now considered unlikely following the fact that the coalition was broken by Renzi.
Polls see legal alliance ahead
The former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of the liberal-conservative party Forza Italia no longer seemed to be willing to support the offer he made weeks ago to support Conte and his coalition in important votes in parliament – for example on the budget or now on the reconstruction program with EU funds renew. Together with the former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini from the right-wing nationalist Lega and Giorgio Meloni from the post-fascist Brothers of Italy party, Berlusconi is now calling for new elections.
Dhe pandemic year 2020 started badly for Italy and it didn’t get any better towards the end. In February, the coronavirus from China hit Italy as the first country in Europe. In mid-March, the “Bergamo trucks” with the coffins of the Covid victims became a symbol of the devastation that was soon to be observed in other countries. The left-wing coalition in Rome under Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte imposed the longest and strictest lockdown in Europe from the beginning of March to the end of May.
Political correspondent for Italy, the Vatican, Albania and Malta, based in Rome.
When, after a quiet summer and autumn, the second wave of infections rolled in at the beginning of November, Rome again imposed a nationwide lockdown, this time with gradations according to regional infection rates. Over Christmas and the turn of the year the whole country was declared a “red zone” again. The review on New Year’s Eve fell on a country that was once again haunted: in the second wave of infections, even more people died than in the first. More than 74,000 Covid victims were there by the end of the year, more than in any other country in Europe. As in spring, the deaths in the second wave of infections were on average over eighty years old. Once again, Italy failed in its task of protecting the most vulnerable from the virus.
The country is paying an immense price for what, according to the WHO, is “inspiring” measures taken by Rome against the pandemic. The Italian economy is likely to have shrunk by around ten percent in 2020, which is also a sad peak in Europe. The government’s announced aid measures will drive the state debt burden to up to 160 percent of annual economic output. The solidarity demonstrated in the spring – with collective singing from balconies, with national flags everywhere, with the motto “Tutto andrà bene” (Everything will be fine) – has evaporated into the usual trench warfare of social groups. And the cockfights within the fragile left-wing coalition are as fierce as they were before the pandemic.
At the moment, the main focus is on the use of around 209 billion euros that Italy is to receive from the EU’s so-called reconstruction fund. At his press conference at the turn of the year, Conte verbally demanded that the country should “not let this historic opportunity slip by” and that the government “should not gamble away the credibility it has built up”. But it is precisely this accusation that the former head of government Matteo Renzi, who belongs to the left-wing coalition with his small party “Italia Viva”, founded in September 2019 as a split from the Social Democrats.
The former major social democratic reformer Renzi is notoriously unruly because he does not seem to have got over his own fall from December 2016 to this day. But his arguments are sound, even if Renzi with his offensive at the turn of the year apparently wants to squeeze out more influence for himself and his party in the joint coalition with the Social Democrats and the left-wing populist five-star movement. Renzi accuses Conte of disempowering the cabinet, in which Renzi’s party has two of 24 ministerial posts, as well as parliament, with more and more expert bodies and task forces that are supposed to decide on the use of EU funds.
“The decree is technically wrong because it is not based on scientific data. And the premier Giuseppe Conte don’t be a populist. ” Matteo Renzi returns to attack the Prime Minister. And he does so bluntly in an interview with “la Repubblica”. Harsh words that widen even more the wound in the majority that opened after the adoption of the last dpcm by Conte, with which he closed restaurants and bars after 18, but also gyms, cinemas and theaters. Renzi had not spared criticism even during the days, believing that the path he had taken was not the right one. And today he insists: “Conte’s responses to my criticisms are populist, he accuses me of playing political games, but without Florence”.
After the meme of Matteo Salvini, which has met with great success for the immediacy with which it returns the message about the closures imposed by the last Dpcm signed by Giuseppe Conte, arrives Giorgia Meloni to further embarrass the premier and his majority. The leader of Fratelli d’Italia has published an image that contains the statements of Matteo Renzi (“Wrong to close theaters and restaurants”) and those of Nicola Zingaretti (“The enemy is the virus, not the rules to fight it, now the government supports quickly and concretely the people and categories affected by the measure”), accompanied by a single sentence: “But do they know I’m in government?“. This is precisely what makes the whole situation surreal to say the least: “The government – points out Meloni – asks the government to intervene on the measures made by the government. It sounds like a joke, were it not for the thousands of activities massacred also by these gentlemen ”. Once again the Fdi leader has hit the mark, because the tensions and increasingly marked divisions within the Giallorossi executive are starting to emerge also outside, confirming the fact that these political forces are together only for disguised convenience from “health truce”.
An outcry from various quarters after the new Dpcm which, by the same admission of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, ends up displeasing some categories. The measures do not go down to the president of Confindustria, Carlo Bonomi, who “struggles to understand what the direction” of the government is. “We let ourselves be caught unprepared and this time we knew it”, is the summary of the number one of Viale dell’Astronomia, who asks for a change of method and that the executive listens more to the social partners, but then raises the alarm. The Italian GDP, “if the restrictive measures continue”, could mark “a -11 / -12%, with damage to the economy of 216 billion, higher than the funds of the Recovery Fund”. Bonomi draws attention when it comes to refreshments, because “we still have 12,000 people waiting for the Cig provided by the state since May, it is these things that Italians lose confidence in”.
But the reactions to the decree in force since Monday go further. They range from politics to the world of productive categories, passing through the world of culture. «The closure of theaters and cinemas was painful. But today the absolute priority is to protect the life and health of all, with every possible measure ”, is the message of Minister Dario Franceschini. Who then assures: “More than the past months we will support businesses and culture workers”. Many turn up their noses and Anica (National Association of Film Industries) promises: “We will work to ensure that today’s measure is absolutely temporary: after this phase, made up of complex and economically painful sacrifices, we must reach an scheduled reopening ».
The new government squeeze, with a ‘soft lockdown’, reinvigorates the center-right and reopens some wounds in the majority. Matteo Salvini during the day listened to “the concerns” of the mayors and governors of the League: some of the first Lega Nord citizens are considering resorting to the TAR against the Dpcm. The president of the Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, sharpens the point: «It is intolerable that after eight months the government is sailing on sight. They are not understanding anything ». For Silvio Berlusconi, again, we need “to open an institutional table where we can bring our proposals for Italy”.
Meanwhile, Italia viva comes out and launches a petition. “In the idea of ’closing all that is not necessary’ we really want to include the culture, beauty or well-being of sport?” Asks Matteo Renzi’s party. And the dem, Andrea Romano, is not there: “There are political forces that promote petitions against the government they belong to. Less cunning and more commitment would be needed ». If Andrea Marcucci underlines the request of the Democratic Party to provide an “economic refreshment” for the sectors most affected, quickly married by Conte, the M5S squares and Vito Crimi calls to order: “Now is the moment of responsibility again”. “The enemy is the virus, not the measures that are taken to stop it”, echoes Nicola Zingaretti. It does not end here, however, because the niet at the Dpcm are different. Fipe-Confcommercio calculates that the measures “will cost another 2.7 billion to catering companies”, which risk “the coup de grace”. «The adequate and timely refreshments announced by the government must be extended to the agri-food chain. Any exclusion would be incomprehensible and unjustified ”, is the reflection of Massimiliano Giansanti (Confagricoltura). While Coldiretti speaks of “a loss of turnover of over a billion due to the lack of sales of food and drinks” with the closures at 18 of the premises. Of “a very serious shock for the exhibition sector for which an urgent act with a non-repayable economic intervention is needed” speaks Maurizio Danese, president of Aefi. And in a joint note Cgil, Cisl and Uil reiterate, finally, the need for an immediate confrontation with the government. Who accepted the request: next Wednesday, at 4 pm, there will be a conference call called by Conte in the evening.