World / Politics

Embattled Conte to address Italian Senate


Italy’s political leaders scrambled to line up allies and form alliances Tuesday as the country’s right-wing interior minister pressed his demands for an early election in hopes of snagging the premiership as a platform for his anti-migrant, euroskeptic agenda.

Senators were hastily summoned back from vacation for a political crisis sparked by a no-confidence motion lodged by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s League party against Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s 14-month-old populist government. They voted to have Conte address the Senate on Aug. 20.

It was unclear if a vote on the no-confidence motion brought last week by the government’s junior partner might immediately follow. Salvini’s allies had pressed for the vote to take place as soon as this week.

With the League’s popularity soaring since he became interior minister last year, Salvini wants to carry the momentum to an early national election in October, more than three and a half years ahead of schedule.

Conte must offer his resignation to Italy’s president if the no-confidence motion passes. The political turmoil sparked by the League’s challenge has rattled financial markets.

“Italy wants to have certainty, and what’s more beautiful, democratic, transparent, linear, dignified than to give the word to the people” at the ballot box, Salvini said during a speech in the Senate.

The 5-Star Movement chose Conte to be prime minister after a 2018 election and is weighing whether to ally now with the opposition Democratic Party. The strategy aims to delay an early election, at least until after painful budget cuts are made to avoid triggering sales tax hikes.

Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, a Democratic leader, argued that such a deal would allow the government to make the budget cuts before year’s end to avoid the automatic rise that would bring the VAT sales tax to 25 percent next year.

If that happens, Italy would “risk a recession worse than that of 2011,” Renzi said, citing worrisome economic prospects in China and Germany as additional factors that could cause a rapid downturn in the global economy.

Renzi was forced to resign the prime ministership in 2016 when he lost a referendum on his government’s reforms. An alliance with 5-Star risks deepening already bitter divisions within his party, which is now the parliament’s largest opposition force.

Just a year ago, the anti-establishment 5-Star rebuffed the center-left Democrats in favor of the anti-migrant League, forging a coalition to bring Europe’s first all-populist government into power.

Salvini scoffed at the possibility of Renzi making a political comeback as a result of the coalition collapsing.

“Renzi back in government thanks to the 5-Stars? That’s swindling the Italians?” Salvini said.

The possibility of a deal between Renzi and the 5-Star Movement poses challenges for the Democratic Party. The prospect has put the Democrats “on the verge of an existential crisis and rekindled rumors about a new party split,” Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo, an analyst firm based in London.

Renzi said he is willing to take that risk.

“My worry for the country is far greater than my worry for the PD (Democratic Party),” the ex-premier said. “If the country goes into recession, it’s grave for everyone.”