Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is fighting to stay afloat following the withdrawal of a partner party from the government coalition, a move that has sparked a political crisis amid the unleashed COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawmakers called on Conte to work out his next steps following the dramatic exit from the Italia Viva party of former prime minister Matteo Renzi on Wednesday night.
The speaker of the lower house of the Italian parliament, Roberto Fico, suspended Thursday’s regular work and said he would call a meeting of all party leaders.
“I will contact Conte for the request to come to the room,” he said. “This house is not and cannot be indifferent to what is happening.”
Renzi presented a list of grievances, criticizing the way Conte had handled the pandemic and accusing him of monopolizing power.
However, the former prime minister’s group left the door open to return as long as a new political deal could be reached.
“It’s not a question of who [is in charge], but of what is being done, ”Elena Bonetti, one of the two outgoing ministers of Italia Viva, told Radio 24.
Since Renzi resigned, Conte has not made any public comment or given any indication that he was ready to tender his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella.
Conte weighs the answer
One of the options open to him would be to try to bring together a group of so-called “responsible” parliamentarians from the ranks of the opposition, who would promise to support his government in the absence of Italia Viva.
“Conte wants to go to parliament and see if he can build an alternative majority there,” a government official, who declined to be appointed, told Reuters news agency.
To do so, it would need to find around 25 lawmakers in the 630-seat lower house and up to 18 in the 315-seat Senate. However, such a majority would be extremely fragile and make it difficult to implement meaningful reform.
Failing that, he will have to swallow his pride and seek to forge a new alliance with Renzi, one of Italy’s most ruthless politicians, whose party is floundering in the polls – but a poll published in the Corriere della Sera newspaper on Wednesday suggested that the public had little support for this route.
Seventy-three percent of those polled said Renzi was acting out of self-interest, rather than out of the country’s interest. When asked to take sides, 55% preferred Conte, with only 10% supporting Renzi.
Italian media reported that Conte would try to delay his action for a few days, while pushing through new aid to companies hit by coronavirus shutdowns.
Italy’s often volatile markets were little changed in early trading on Thursday, in large part thanks to large-scale purchases of Italian assets by the European Central Bank, which shielded investors from hostile economic and political winds.
Far right ready to take advantage
But the mellow mood could change if the crisis leads to an early general election, in which some observers believe a Eurosceptic bloc led by the far-right party of Matteo Salvini could win.
The political drama comes against the backdrop of the contagion of the coronavirus, which kills hundreds of people every day and has plunged Italy into its worst recession since World War II.
One of Renzi’s main complaints about Conte is the way he handled his plan to spend up to € 200 billion ($ 243 billion) in European Union funds to help rebuild the country, accusing him of trying to bypass Parliament in decision-making.
Renzi also said Conte had to accept up to 36 billion euros ($ 44 billion) offered by the EU in a separate rescue fund for the healthcare system. No other EU country has exploited this mechanism amid fears that the money will come with unwanted terms.
European Affairs Minister Vincenzo Amendola, a member of the center-left Democratic Party (PD), has warned that Italy risks running out of funds.
“All my European colleagues are very worried,” he told Sky Italia TV.