Chaotic Italian senate session rejects Salvini’s call for no-confidence vote

The League party's demands for an early election aren't being met, as a rowdy Italian Senate on Tuesday rejected the call for a swift no-confidence vote.

Chaotic Italian senate session rejects Salvini's call for no-confidence vote
League leader Matteo Salvini speaking in the Italian senate on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's anti-migration League party had called for the vote after he withdrew support for the coalition government – which the League is part of – last week.

But a majority of senators from former coalition partners the Five Star Movement (M5S) and from the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) opposition rejected the motion.

READ ALSO: Government crisis: is Italy heading for early elections?

Instead, lawmakers approved an M5S-PD motion calling for a debate next week during which Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte would address the Senate.

Senators were recalled at the height of the holiday season after political groups on Monday failed to agree on a timetable for the vote demanded by Salvini

He kicked off Tuesday's debate with a stunning U-turn, offering to back a key parliamentary reform of the M5S, after saying last week that he could no longer work with them.

In exchange, the anti-establishment M5S was supposed to back his call for swift elections despite the League's withdrawal from the increasingly acrimonious alliance.

Before and after he spoke, the room descended into chaos as senators shouted over one another and the President of the Senate begged for calm.

While the government is still in place, the Senate decides whether to initiate a no-confidence vote in the 14-month-old administration led by Conte, an independent approved by co-deputy prime ministers Salvini and M5S leader Luigi Di Maio last year.

After little support emerged for Salvini's call for a no-confidence motion in the Senate, he offered Tuesday to support the M5S reform that would slash the number of lawmakers from 950 to 605.

“Let's vote the cut of 345 parliamentarians and then let's hold an election immediately,” Salvini suggested during the noisy Senate session.

READ ALSO: Matteo Salvini, Italy's rebranded nationalist sharing power with former enemy

Di Maio, who is not a senator, welcomed Salvini's offer to back the M5S reform, but said it was up to President Sergio Mattarella to decide on elections.

“The country has been waiting for years. Next week we cut 345 parliamentarians,” Di Maio said on Facebook.

“I am still seriously worried about millions of Italian families and the risk of an increase in VAT.”

The M5S, PD and other parties have been holding talks on a transitional government to pass the parliamentary reform and next year's budget to avoid an automatic rise in value-added tax that would hit the least well-off the hardest.

(L-R) Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and League leader Matteo Salvini.Photo: AFP

Di Maio also took a swipe at Salvini, noting that he had referred to his former political partner as a “friend” during the Senate debate.

“Friendship is a serious thing, it is a fundamental value in life, extraordinary. And above all, true friends are always loyal,” Di Maio said.

Salvini had wanted a vote on the government's future to take place as early as Wednesday and for elections to follow in October, in order to capitalise on his party's current popularity.

Opinion polls are suggesting the League could garner 36-38 percent of votes, which would allow it to pick and choose partners for a future government.

Potential new alliances

Matteo Renzi, who was PD premier from 2014-16, warned Tuesday that snap elections would be a “disaster” that would plunge Italy into recession.

“Lawmakers must say today that Salvini is in the minority,” Renzi said shortly before the debate, suggesting that even League leaders were surprised at how badly the crisis has unfolded for them. 

“We have the chance to turn the page,” Renzi said, extending a hand to the M5S for a new coalition.

Both the PD and M5S are divided on whether to form an improvised alliance, something the PD refused to do after May's elections, prompting the unwieldy M5S-League coalition.

Salvini is also seeking allies, both in the Senate and for possible elections, from former premier Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and the post-fascist Brothers of Italy, led by Giorgia Meloni.

Those parties could not provide the support Salvini needs in the Senate, however.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: Three ways Italy's latest political crisis could unfold

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Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.