Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has more than enough on his plate as he deals with a raging coronavirus pandemic but also faces the more immediate challenge of staying in power.
Despite the skyrocketing death toll from COVID-19 and with a looming deadline to craft a credible plan to spend billions of euros in EU recovery funds, the government has been consumed for weeks by shots on goal from former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
Renzi threatened to withdraw his small but important Italia Viva (Italy Alive) party from the center-left coalition led by Conte, which would force its collapse.
“The situation is, in technical terms, a disaster,” said the politician, who ruled Italy from 2014 to 2016, in an interview with Rete 4 that aired late Monday.
Asked about Conte’s chances of keeping his job, he replied, “We’ll see.
Renzi complained about slow progress in rolling out coronavirus vaccinations and delays in reopening schools and lambasted Conte for seeking to concentrate power in his hands.
This includes setting spending priorities without enough consultation for the 196 billion euros ($ 240 billion) Italy expects to receive as part of a post-EU stimulus package. virus, which is due to be submitted to Brussels by mid-April.
Italy has recorded more than 75,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus, the highest death toll in Europe, and associated lockdowns and restrictions have hit the economy hard.
The leaked draft spending plan includes more than 50 priorities, with just nine billion euros ($ 11 billion) for the cash-strapped Italian healthcare system.
“It can’t work, there is too much money on donations and too little on investments,” Renzi said.
The showdown with Conte is expected to peak in the coming days when ministers meet – possibly as early as Wednesday – to discuss EU plans.
Government without Tale
Conte could try to appease Renzi with a cabinet reshuffle, either by persuading some ministers to resign, or by resigning himself to asking President Sergio Mattarella for a new term with a revised list of ministers.
But this option is, of course, fraught with risks.
Once Conte resigns, Renzi could insist that the ruling coalition – which includes the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), the center-left Democratic Party (PD) and the left-wing Free and Equals (LeU) party – can only survive under a new prime minister. .
However, there are no obvious alternative candidates. Former European Central Bank president Mario Draghi is often mentioned as a possible savior for the country, but he has shown no appetite for a political career, at least in public.
“Personally, I think a government without Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte would be madness,” tweeted Federico D’Inca, minister and member of M5S, the largest party in parliament.
Conte, a once obscure law professor who has never been elected himself, has so far proven surprisingly adept at navigating the rough waters of Italian politics.
He has been in office since 2018, first at the head of a right-wing administration made up of the M5S and the League.
The coalition collapsed a year later, but he remained at the head of a left-wing government cobbled together between the M5S, the PD and smaller allies.
If Conte is impeached and politicians fail to agree on a successor, Mattarella could be forced to call an early election – two years earlier.
Opinion polls suggest a victory for the right-wing opposition bloc led by Matteo Salvini’s League and the Brothers of Italy of Giorgia Meloni, two fiercely anti-immigration and Eurosceptic parties.
Renzi’s party is in danger of being wiped out – he currently votes at around 3%.
Wolfango Piccoli, co-chairman of the Teneo consultancy firm, said he expects a reorganization of the coalition parties but Conte will remain in power.
“The strength of the ruling coalition in Italy is its weakness – they know they cannot afford elections,” he told AFP news agency.
“I don’t think this crisis will produce anything particularly significant. It will be just another waste of time at the worst possible time for the country. “
The EU is officially staying away, but with a vigilant eye.
“Even before the COVID crisis, Italy – due to its debt problem, bad loans and fragile politics – was a country more closely watched than the others,” a European source told AFP .
“As a government making a plan, it makes it very difficult if you risk a coalition collapsing every second.”