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Turin-Lyon trainline dispute causes fresh schism in Italy’s government

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Turin-Lyon trainline dispute causes fresh schism in Italy’s government
Luigi Di Maio, Giuseppe Conte, and Matteo Salvini at Palazzo Chigi in Rome on January 17, 2019. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
11:06 CET+01:00
A fresh controversy over the construction of the high-speed Turin-Lyon‘Tav’ rail line has once again raised tensions in Italy’s coalition government, which is divided over whether the half-completed project should go ahead.

The latest skirmish in the long-running dispute was sparked as Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who is not affiliated with either of the government's two ruling parties and had till now demurred on giving his opinion, finally came out against the project.

"I have strong doubts about the utility of the Tav […] I am not at all convinced that this is what Italy needs," he told reporters at a press conference at Palazzo Chigi, the meeting place of the Council of Ministers, on Thursday evening.

Conte’s statement was applauded by co-deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio, whose Five Star Movement Party has long opposed the Tav and had made scrapping the project a cornerstone of its manifesto in the run up to Italy’s 2018 general election.

But co-deputy prime minister and League party leader Matteo Salvini, whose voter base is concentrated in the industrial north, told journalists that he had no intention of allowing the project to be quashed.

“If I have to push things to the end, I’ll push them to the end. We’re both saying ‘no’: let’s see who has the harder head,” he said.

Di Maio said he was "completely stunned" by what he characterised as Salvini’s "threats of a government crisis", and lambasted his counterpart's “irresponsible attitude”.

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On Friday morning Italian news outlets reported that the government was “on the brink of a crisis” over the issue.

But political analysts say that a government collapse is highly unlikely at this juncture, as it would not be to Salvini's advantage to trigger a crisis prior to the upcoming European Parliamentary elections, in which League is predicted to win a high proportion of the votes.

“Salvini needs to show his northern, pro-business base that he endorses infrastructure and public works projects, particularly as the economy is going into recession. But he will not rock the boat too seriously prior to cashing in on his strong polling position in May,” Peter Ceretti, an Europe intelligence analyst for The Economist, wrote on Twitter.

In an interview with the radio station RTL this morning Salvini appeared to soften his stance, saying that the project must go ahead, but that he would not threaten a government collapse over the matter.

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