Militant feminist in new Italian cabinet line-up

Italy's new government line-up brings together personalities from across the political spectrum, from Silvio Berlusconi's protégé to a crime fighter and a militant feminist from the radical party.

Militant feminist in new Italian cabinet line-up
Foreign Minister Emma Bonino arrives for Prime Minister Enrico Letta's first cabinet meeting. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Here are some of the key names of the coalition members tasked with tackling the social and economic crisis in recession-hit Italy, but who risk sparring over key reforms called for to revitalize the eurozone's third largest economy.

Enrico Letta, prime minister, was number two in the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), and a strong critic of the left's rival, former premier Silvio Berlusconi.

The 46-year old moderate, a Catholic with a "post-ideological" image, is one of the youngest prime ministers in the European Union and has already served in four governments.

Angelino Alfano, deputy prime minister and interior minister, has been a Berlusconi loyalist since the media tycoon entered politics in the early 1990s. Born in 1970, he rose rapidly through the ranks, becoming justice minister and then leader of Berlusconi's People of Freedom party.

A lawyer, he is best known as the architect of a law intended to shield Berlusconi from prosecution, which was later overturned by a Constitutional Court ruling.

Fabrizio Saccomanni, economy minister, 70, has been the director general of the Bank of Italy since 2006 and turned the spotlight on the country's precarious workers in particular, highlighting problems in the labour market.

Saccomanni participated in the negotiations for the creation of the European single currency and helped manage Italy's transition from the lira to the euro.

More recently, he dismissed as exaggerated fears that debt-laden Italy could end up contributing to a eurozone break-up and has accused powerful ratings agencies of overstepping their roles and fuelling market anxiety unnecessarily.

Emma Bonino, foreign minister, 65, is a militant feminist and former member of Italy's radical party.

Jailed for three weeks in 1975 for protesting in favour of abortion rights, she is renowned for her battles to legalize divorce, decriminalize soft drugs like marijuana, support religious and sexual freedoms and stop the use of nuclear energy.

A graduate in modern languages who speaks Arabic, she is a former European commissioner for humanitarian aid.

Anna Maria Cancellieri, justice minister, 69, was interior minister under Mario Monti and is a former prefect with a reputation as a crime fighter and a troubleshooter in times of crisis.

Nicknamed the "Iron Lady" for her leadership style and uncompromising stance on corruption, she has been courted by the left, right and centre during her long career but has remained impartial and avoided aligning herself with any political party.

A staunch anti-mafia campaigner, she has defended the Italian state against accusations that it is unable to prevent infiltration by powerful crime groups.

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Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Italy’s government was plunged into turmoil on Tuesday as foreign minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving his party to start a breakaway group.

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Di Maio said his decision to leave the Five Star Movement (M5S) – the party he once led – was due to its “ambiguity” over Italy’s support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

He accused the party’s current leader, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, of undermining the coalition government’s efforts to support Ukraine and weakening Italy’s position within the EU.

“Today’s is a difficult decision I never imagined I would have to take … but today I and lots of other colleagues and friends are leaving the Five Star Movement,” Di Maio told a press conference on Tuesday.

“We are leaving what tomorrow will no longer be the first political force in parliament.”

His announcement came after months of tensions within the party, which has lost most of the popular support that propelled it to power in 2018 and risks being wiped out in national elections due next year.

The split threatens to bring instability to Draghi’s multi-party government, formed in February 2021 after a political crisis toppled the previous coalition.

As many as 60 former Five Star lawmakers have already signed up to Di Maio’s new group, “Together for the Future”, media reports said.

Di Maio played a key role in the rise of the once anti-establishment M5S, but as Italy’s chief diplomat he has embraced Draghi’s more pro-European views.

READ ALSO: How the rebel Five Star Movement joined Italy’s establishment

Despite Italy’s long-standing political and economic ties with Russia, Draghi’s government has taken a strongly pro-NATO stance, sending weapons and cash to help Ukraine while supporting EU sanctions against Russia.

Di Maio backed the premier’s strong support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, including sending weapons for Kyiv to defend itself.

In this he has clashed with the head of Five Star, former premier Giuseppe Conte, who argues that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution.

Di Maio attacked his former party without naming Conte, saying: “In these months, the main political force in parliament had the duty to support the diplomacy of the government and avoid ambiguity. But this was not the case,” he said.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“In this historic moment, support of European and Atlanticist values cannot be a mistake,” he added.

The Five Star Movement, he said, had risked the stability of the government “just to try to regain a few percentage points, without even succeeding”.

But a majority of lawmakers – including from the Five Star Movement – backed Draghi’s approach in March and again in a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Draghi earlier on Tuesday made clear his course was set.

“Italy will continue to work with the European Union and with our G7 partners to support Ukraine, to seek peace, to overcome this crisis,” he told the Senate, with Di Maio at his side.

“This is the mandate the government has received from parliament, from you. This is the guide for our action.”

The Five Star Movement stormed to power in 2018 general elections after winning a third of the vote on an anti-establishment ticket, and stayed in office even after Draghi was parachuted in to lead Italy in February 2021.

But while it once threatened to upend the political order in Italy, defections, policy U-turns and dismal polling have left it struggling for relevance.

“Today ends the story of the Five Star Movement,” tweeted former premier Matteo Renzi, who brought down the last Conte government by withdrawing his support.