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Five Star Movement’s ultimatum to the Italian right: Ditch Berlusconi by Sunday

Italy's anti-establishment party leader Luigi Di Maio on Wednesday gave far-right leader Matteo Salvini until the "end of the week" to dump coalition ally Silvio Berlusconi and strike a deal in the latest round of Italian government talks.

Five Star Movement's ultimatum to the Italian right: Ditch Berlusconi by Sunday
Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi after talks at the presidential palace. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Earlier, Italian President Sergio Mattarella tasked Senate speaker Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati with brokering an agreement by Friday between Di Maio's Five Star Movement (M5S) and Salvini's nationalist League party, which leads a right-wing coalition that contains Berlusconi's Forza Italia.

The pair are vying to lead the country out of weeks of political deadlock that has emerged from the inconclusive March 4th general election.

The third round of consultations centres on Di Maio's refusal to deal with Berlusconi, whom the M5S sees as a symbol of political corruption, and the 81-year-old media magnate's distaste for the “anti-democratic” M5S.

After meeting the Senate speaker on Wednesday afternoon, Di Maio dug his heels in, calling Salvini's right-wing grouping “an electoral gimmick” and demanding that he come to the negotiating table alone.

“I expect a definitive response [from Salvini] by the end of the week,” Di Maio told reporters.

“The country can't wait any longer.”

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Di Maio, 31, wants to create a German-style “government contract” with the League.

“The only forces capable of signing this contract and forming a government in these consultations are the M5S and the League,” he added.

Alberti Casellati is an ally of former prime minister Berlusconi, and her election as the first-ever female Senate speaker was part of a pact that aimed to smooth the path to an alliance between the M5S and the League.

They have been battling over who should lead the government since the M5S became Italy's largest single party at the polls with just under 33 percent of the vote and the right picked up 37 percent.

Despite Di Maio's pressure, Salvini has refused to break up the grouping that won the most number of seats in the parliament and has given him a chance of becoming prime minister.

“I don't see respect for the people's vote. The one that came second dictating the rules to the one that came first,” Salvini said.

Di Maio's ultimatum is designed to put pressure on Salvini, who is eyeing elections on April 29th in the northeastern region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, where a League candidate backed by Forza Italia is favourite to win.

It also opens the door to potential future talks with centre-left Democratic Party (PD), who are not involved in this round of consultations after their coalition came third and subsequently refused to deal with either the right or M5S.

Berlusconi on Wednesday assured that he had not vetoed any alliance with the M5S and hinted that there might be a new round of talks with the Senate Speaker on Thursday. 

READ ALSO: Who is Elisabetta Casellati? The woman trying to break Italy's parliamentary deadlock

Who is Elisabetta Casellati? The woman trying to break Italy's parliamentary deadlock
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

COST OF LIVING

Fuel tax cut and help with energy bills: Italy approves inflation aid package

Italy on Thursday night approved new measures worth around 17 billion euros ($17.4 billion) to help families and businesses manage the surging cost of fuel and essentials.

Fuel tax cut and help with energy bills: Italy approves inflation aid package

As expected, the final version of the ‘aiuti-bis‘ decree provides another extension to the existing 30-cents-per-litre cut to fuel duty, more help with energy bills, and a tax cut for workers earning under 35,000 euros a year.

The package also includes further funding for mental health treatment: there’s another 15 million euros for the recently-introduced ‘psychologist bonus’ on top of the 10 million previously allocated.

READ ALSO: What is Italy doing to cut the rising cost of living?

There are also measures to help agricultural firms deal with this year’s severe drought.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi described the new package as an intervention “of incredible proportions”, which corresponds to “a little over 2 points of national GDP”.

However, he said, no changes were made to the national budget to pave the way for the new measures.

The measures will be funded with 14.3 billion euros in higher-than-expected tax revenues this year, and the deployment of funds that have not yet been spent, Economy and Finance Minister Daniele Franco said.

Italy has already budgeted some 35 billion euros since January to soften the impact of rising fuel costs.

The decree is one of the last major acts by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi before an early general election next month.

Elections are set for September 25th but the former European Central Bank chief is staying on in a caretaker role until a new government is formed.

Draghi said the Italian economy was performing better than expected, citing the International Monetary Fund’s estimate of three percent for 2022.

“They say that in 2022, we will grow more than Germany, than France, than the average of the eurozone, more than the United States,” he told a press conference.

But he noted the many problems facing Italy, “from the high cost of living, to inflation, the rise in energy prices and other materials, to supply difficulties, widespread insecurity and, of course political insecurity”.

Inflation hit 8 percent in Italy in June – the most severe spike the country has experienced since 1976.

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