Political crisis: Italian PM Conte makes last-ditch bid to save government

It's make-or-break time this week for Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, as he aims to halt a crisis that could bring down his government.

Political crisis: Italian PM Conte makes last-ditch bid to save government
Palazzo Chigi, the seat of the Italian government, in central Rome. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte addressed parliament's lower house on Monday, appealing to lawmakers from outside the ruling coalition to vote for the government and stop it collapsing in the middle of the pandemic.

Conte needs to gather support from lawmakers for his government ahead of a crucial vote in the upper Senate on Tuesday, after ex-premier Matteo Renzi triggered a crisis by pulling his Italia Viva party out of the coalition.

READ ALSO: Italy's political crisis: Why now, and what happens next?

In his speech to the Chamber of Deputies at midday on Monday, Conte warned now was not the time for a new government.

“We risk losing touch with reality… All our energies should be focused on the urgent crisis facing the country,” he said.
Italy “deserves a cohesive government”, one with “an essential European mission, pursuing a clear choice of field against nationalist tendencies”, he said, facing jeers and shouts of “go home” from the right-wing opposition.
He urged lawmakers from “the highest European tradition, liberal, popular and socialist” to support him, adding: “Now we have to turn the page.”
He also defended his government's plan for dealing with the coronavirus crisis as well as Italy's longstanding economic problems.

“From the start I've worked on a courageous design for reform based on sustainability, social and territorial cohesion, and the development of people,” he said.

His government is not lacking support in the lower house, where coalition partners including the Democratic Party (PD) and Five Star Movement (M5S) have a majority.

The real test for the government will come on Tuesday, when he addresses the Senate and faces what will effectively be a vote of confidence.

Conte's government no longer controls the upper chamber after Renzi withdrew Italia Viva's 18 senators, depriving the premier of an automatic majority in the 321-seat house.

“We are working to ensure that the attempt to bring down the government tomorrow is foiled. We are convinced that we will succeed,” said PD deputy leader Andrea Orlando.

But the outcome of the Senate vote, and its consequences, are very uncertain.

Conte has been trying to win the support of opposition lawmakers but is struggling.

Renzi, meanwhile, has said his party will abstain – making it easier for the government to win the vote, but risking further turbulence.

PROFILE: Who is Matteo Renzi, the 'wrecker' of Italian politics?


Italian ex-PM and head of the 'Italia Viva' party, Matteo Renzi, holds a press conference at the Italian Chamber of Deputies in Rome. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/POOL/AFP

What is the likely outcome?

If Conte and partners cannot show they have a solid parliamentary majority, the premier is expected to resign, opening up three main scenarios.

The PD and M5S could patch things up with Renzi, and form a reshuffled government, with or without Conte at the helm. However, this now looks unlikely as the two parties have rejected the idea of working with ex-premier Renzi.

But PD has kept the door open to individual lawmakers from the Italia Viva party – two of whom have said they will break ranks.
Otherwise, there could be a new coalition government, probably led by another non-partisan figure (which is how Conte was initially chosen).

Failing that, Italy could end up with snap elections, which would be expected to hand victory to right-wing opposition parties.

Renzi had for weeks been criticising Conte's handling of the pandemic, his plans for a 200-billion-euro European Union recovery fund, and his personal governing style.

Italy tightened the coronavirus restrictions across many regions on Sunday in a bid to control a Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 82,000 lives and devastated the economy.

Italy “deserves a cohesive government” — one with “an essential European mission, pursuing a clear choice of field against nationalist tendencies”, he

Member comments

  1. Renzi is deluded. He is stumbling towards delivering power to Salvini. Italy has been very lucky to have a competent leader during this pandemic. It has been horrific but could have been so much worse with one of the crazy ideologues in power. I hope Conte can hang on.

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Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Days after Italy's far-right leader made a multilingual appeal to foreign commentators to take her seriously, her main rival in September elections issued his own tit-for-tat video Saturday condemning her record.

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Former prime minister Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, declared his pro-European credentials in a video in English, French and Spanish, while deriding the euroscepticism of Italy’s right-wing parties.

It echoes the trilingual video published this week by Giorgia Meloni, tipped to take power in the eurozone’s third largest economy next month, in which she sought to distance her Brothers of Italy party from its post-fascist roots.

“We will keep fighting to convince Italians to vote for us and not for them, to vote for an Italy that will be in the heart of Europe,” Letta said in English.

His party and Meloni’s are neck-and-neck in opinion polls ahead of September 25 elections, both with around 23 percent of support.

But Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni is part of an alliance with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and anti-immigration leader Matteo Salvini, Letta has struggled to unite a fractured centre-left.

Speaking in French perfected in six years as a dean at Sciences Po university in Paris, Letta emphasised European solidarity, from which Italy is currently benefiting to the tune of almost 200 billion euros ($205 billion) in
post-pandemic recovery funds.

“We need a strong Europe, we need a Europe of health, a Europe of solidarity. And we can only do that if there is no nationalism inside European countries,” he said.

He condemned the veto that he said right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor “Orban — friends and allies of the Italian right — is using every time he can (to) harm Europe”.

In Spanish, Letta highlighted Meloni’s ties with Spain’s far-right party Vox, at whose rally she spoke earlier this summer, railing at the top of her voice against “LGBT lobbies”, Islamist violence, EU bureaucracy and mass

In English, he condemned the economic legacy of Berlusconi, a three-time premier who left office in 2011 as Italy was on the brink of economic meltdown, but still leads his Forza Italia party.

Letta’s programme includes a focus on green issues — he intends to tour Italy in an electric-powered bus — and young people, but he has made beating Meloni a key plank of his campaign.

Meloni insisted in her video that fascism was in the past, a claim greeted with scepticism given her party still uses the logo of a flame used by the Italian Social Movement set up by supporters of fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

In a joint manifesto published this week, Meloni, Berlusconi and Salvini committed themselves to the EU but called for changes to its budgetary rules — and raised the prospect of renegotiating the pandemic recovery plan.

Elections were triggered by the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government last month, and are occurring against a backdrop of soaring inflation, a potential winter energy crisis and global uncertainty sparked by
the Ukraine war.