Italian PM Conte slams ‘irresponsible’ Salvini before offering resignation

Italy took a step closer to early elections today, after PM Giuseppe Conte announced his resignation as the political crisis came to a head.

Italian PM Conte slams 'irresponsible' Salvini before offering resignation
Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini (L) listens as Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (R) speaks to the Senate. Photo: AFP

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte launched a scathing attack on League leader and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini in a highly-anticipated speech on Tuesday afternoon, before saying he would offer his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella.

READ ALSO: Italy's political crisis: what's going to happen next?

Conte told the Senate that Salvini was “irresponsible” to spark a political crisis and attept to bring down the government in the hope of forcing snap elections.

In the first half of his speech Conte launched a full-scale attack on Salvini, denouncing him for plunging Italy into crisis out of “personal and party interest.”

Conte's address came following a week of fallout from Salvini's decision to back out of the alliance on August 8, plunging the economy into turmoil.

Afer Conte announced his intention to resign, Salvini hit back saying: “Thank you, finally, I would do it all again.”

Salvini “violated the solemn promise he took when the government began that if there were differences they should be discussed in good faith and with loyal collaboration,” Conte said as League Senators booed and hissed, and Salvini, sitting beside Conte, shook his head and made faces.

Conte has been a mostly quiet figure during the past 14 months of the ruling League-Five Star Movement coalition government, of which he was appointed as a “neutral” head.

“I heard you calling for 'full powers' and invoke (demonstrations in) the piazzas to support you, which worries me,” Conte said.

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in 1922 assumed so-called full powers to govern the country at his whim.

“We don't need full powers but leaders who have a sense of institutions,” Conte said.

“Our system precludes authoritarian ways,” Conte continued, as Salvini looked on beside him.

“Making citizens vote is the essence of democracy, asking them to vote every year is irresponsible,” Conte added.

“I'm ending this government experience here… I will go to the president of the republic to inform him of my resignation,” he said.

Salvini responded with a 20-minute speech in which he spoke about migration – a topic Conte had previously said the interior minister was “obsessed” with.

During Salvini's speech, dozens of senators walked out of the room while one was reprimanded by the Senate's president for holding up a protest sign.

A small group of protesters heckled League senators as they arrived at the Senate.

“Get out, buffoons, get out, mafia,” the protesters shouted, prompting a League senator to wave his middle finger at them

Conte is expected to offer his formal resignation this evening after the end of today's debate in the Senate, which began at 3pm and is expected to last almost four hours.

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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.