Thursday

12th Dec 2019

Italy: Euro crisis meeting could strain coalition

  • Berlusconi (l). German and French leaders laughed when asked if Rome is doing enough (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi's coalition government is to face a major test at 6pm local time on Monday (24 October), when ministers meet to push through austerity measures under pressure from fellow EU leaders.

The most important measure on the table - the reform of the country’s pension system - has long divided the fragile coalition of Berlusconi’s centre-right People of Freedom party and the regionalist, far-right Northern League of Umberto Bossi.

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"We have always been and still are against any reform of the pension system ... We’ve made alternative proposals," Northern League parliamentary group leader Marco Reguzzoni said on Monday morning on national TV.

The emergency cabinet meeting comes after EU leaders at a summit in Brussels on Sunday voiced discontent over the pace of implementation of Italian austerity measures.

Adding insult to injury, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy laughed at a joint press conference when asked by reporters if Rome is doing enough.

For his part, Berlusconi on Sunday blamed "others" for "not having been able to do the things I’ve wanted to do." He said he knows that "Bossi takes the pensioners to heart. I’ll talk with him about it."

The Northern League may require more than gentle persuasion to change its mind, however.

"Our position is very clear ... We’ve already given enough. The pensioners have already given enough," the party's interior minister, Roberto Maroni said on Monday in response to possible pension reform. "I’m ready to go to the streets if they raise the retirement age," Rosi Mauro, the vice-president of the senate and also a staunch leghista, said.

If Berlusconi falls out with the league, it could lead to the collapse of the two-party coalition and the end of his government.

Meanwhile, the opposition has smelt an opportunity.

Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, the most important opposition bloc and the second biggest party in the country, is holding a press conference at exactly the same hour as the council of ministers "to illustrate our own proposals to face the crisis."

For his part, Italo Bocchoni, the vice-president of Future and Freedom, a breakaway party of Berlusconi dissidents, said: "We are ready to vote for a rise in the retirement age, with the understanding that one minute later, the prime minister resigns."

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Italy's lower house of parliament is set Friday for fast-track approval of a three-year austerity budget amid pressure from both the markets and other EU member states to take swift action. Meanwhile, German chancellor Merkel has said a summit on Greece will only be held when a new package is ready to be agreed.

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