“At the start of next week — not Monday, but Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest — we need to be able to finish” negotiations between the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the centre-left Democratic Party, he said.
At that point Conte will present his cabinet line-up and government programme to Italy's President Sergio Mattarella. Conte and his new ministers would then be expected to be sworn in on Thursday, before facing a parliament vote on Friday.
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After public spats between the parties — who until recently were sworn enemies — there was now a “good working atmosphere”, Conte told the Fatto Quotidiano daily via video link.
The Five Star Movement (M5S) and Democratic Party (PD) have agreed to form a new coalition to stave off new elections after hardline Matteo Salvini, head of the hard-right League, pulled the plug on the government earlier this month.
Tensions remain, however. There have been persistent reports that M5S head Luigi Di Maio has threatened to pull out of the deal should he not get the deputy prime minister job. Conte said Sunday he was concentrated on policies rather than posts, while the PD suggested the deputy prime minister post should be scrapped to take it out of the equation.
Di Maio loyalists accused the centre-left of trying to cut their leader off at the knees. But on Saturday, the M5S chief was given a rare public ticking off by the Movement's founder, comic Beppe Grillo. In a video on his blog, he said he was “exhausted” by the talk of who-gets-what and the M5S's insistence that its 20-point plan be respected by the PD.
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Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio arrives for talks at the Quirinal presidential palace in Rome on August 28. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
'Extraordinary moment of change'
Grillo lamented “this agonising… this lack of humour, of fun, of exhilaration”, urging the parties in a video on his blog to “sit down at a table and be elated because [you] belong to this extraordinary moment of change”.
Conte said he “shared” Grillo's feelings, while PD leader Nicola Zingaretti agreed, saying “let's change everything, and respect one another”.
As far as the cabinet posts go, Conte said he would invite the M5S and PD to give him suggestions — rather than make demands — “so I can choose the best team”. He insisted the coalition would have a “single shared programme” where it would be difficult to distinguish which measures were championed by which party — a bipolarity which plagued the outgoing League-M5S coalition.
Conte, a softly-spoken lawyer who was chosen as a compromise pick for prime minister after last year's general election, also denied he was the Movement's man, insisting he was neutral.
“I am not a member of the Five Star Movement, I do not participate in meetings of the leadership group, I have never met the parliamentary groups, to call me M5S seems inappropriate to me,” he said. However, he admitted “I am close to them, I have known them a long time, I work well with the M5S”.
When he addressed the nation as premier-designate on Thursday, Conte conspicuously avoided mentioning a hot-button issue that could still see the deal collapse: migration.
The M5S has said it has no regrets about its work done with Salvini, including a controversial anti-immigrant law targeting charity ships that save migrants in the Mediterranean. The PD however, has become increasingly vocal about wanting it altered or scrapped. It has cited the plight of the Italian Mare Jonio rescue ship, currently stuck at sea after Salvini banned it from entering national waters.
“The Mare Jonio case confirms we need to change everything on immigration in Italy,” Zingaretti tweeted on Sunday.