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1st Mar 2021

Italy government totters ahead of €200bn EU covid relief

  • 'Matteo Renzi is very good at making himself disliked. Some of the things he says make sense, others don't' (Photo: Reuters)

Just in time to be all over the Italian evening news on Wednesday night (13 January), Matteo Renzi withdrew the two ministers of his small party, Italia Viva, Teresa Bellanova and Elena Bonetti - making official the political crisis of the government led by prime minister Giuseppe Conte.

During Wednesday's press conference, Renzi accused Conte and his government of damaging Italy's democratic institutions and of lacking any project.

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Renzi, himself a former prime minister, also declared he had no bias against the current prime minister, although there were other possible alternative names in the hat.

According to Riccardo Brizzi, associate professor of contemporary history at the University of Bologna, "Renzi was the main architect of the creation of this government in the summer of 2019 - and one does not understand the reason for this rupture".

Among other things, Brizzi notes, "since December, Italy has held the G20 presidency. The last country that had a serious internal crisis during the G20 presidency was Argentina, which with all due respect to Argentina, would not give a proof of institutional and political solidity of our country".

Lorenzo Dellai, a former MP and ex-governor of Trentino (the rich autonomous region, and a long-standing stronghold of democratic Catholicism, in the Alps) said: "I do not believe the current government is ideal, many of the criticisms made by Renzi are well-founded.

"However, opening a crisis in the midst of a health and socio-economic emergency and with the risk of early elections, is a gamble I do not understand nor share. It also increases the gap between the people and politics".

And not everyone in the Italian parliament is willing to hold early elections.

Renzi is certainly not: his party Italia Viva is on less than three percent in the polls. At new elections, his current 48 seats in parliament would likely go up in smoke.

Thus Renzi might then be fine with keeping Conte on as prime minister, albeit weakened, perhaps so that his government can fall in the summer, when the expiring president of the republic will no longer be able to dissolve parliament and call new elections.

The Five Star Movement and the Democratic Party also have little interest in going to the polls: the far-right coalition led by Matteo Salvini's League and Georgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy would score highly, and the Democratic Party, currently the second party in the polls, would probably find itself in the opposition.

"This crisis has opened up within the centre-left coalition, because of internal problems within the coalition," points out Guido Crosetto, co-founder and national coordinator of the ultra-conservative Brothers of Italy.

"Such situations are usually resolved in private while this crisis has been brought to the media weeks ago. Our country is on its knees and this crisis does not help to have faith in politics. It is no surprise that people get angry".

The secretary of the Democratic Party, Nicola Zingaretti, described Renzi's move as "extremely harmful".

"This crisis is totally incomprehensible to citizens, to international observers," according to Emanuele Felice, professor and head of the economic department of the Democratic Party. "According to a survey published by the newspaper La Stampa, 70 percent of Italians look at it with dismay, concern or anger. Only five percent are interested."

According to Marco Follini, former deputy prime minister, "Italy is in the middle of a never-ending transition because the old parties no longer exist but a new system has not emerged in the vacuum left".

According to Follini, "this crisis will probably end by going back to where it started - that is, a third Conte government will be formed with Renzi who, in his own way, will be part of the combination".

"At the end of July, [president Sergio] Mattarella's 'white semester' [the final six-months of his presidential term] begins, preventing the possibility to dissolve the chambers and call new elections," says Gianfranco Pasquino, one of Italy's most respected political scientists.

"Therefore, if they want to go to elections, it must be done in the next five to six weeks. But I don't foresee elections because it would be suicide, not only of the current majority, but also of Renzi's party".

'Weaknesses and dangers'

On Wednesday, Achille Variati, undersecretary of the interior, told EUobserver that not all is lost. "We need the patience of dialogue. I look with hope to these days of great confrontation, but if it ends in a break-up, I see a lot of weakness and dangers for our country".

Laura Boldrini, former president of the chamber of deputies and MP with the Left Ecology Freedom party, said "the political forces that have created this majority should once again sit down around a table to define a programme of priorities from now until the end of the legislature, and assess whether it is necessary to strengthen the government team".

On Thursday, Italian newspapers suggested that the Democratic Party would not be so hostile to a vote in June.

But probably, according to a source in the Five Star Movement, "it's a trick to scare the MPs of Italia Viva and other small parties. Somehow the votes for Conte will come".

For many business figures, however, the best outcome of this crisis would be a new government capable of putting an economic recovery first.

Above all, in order to manage the billions of euros due from the EU Recovery Fund at best, a capable cabinet, less national and regional bureaucracy, and fewer taxes for businesses are needed.

Talent for being disliked

A Lombardy-based entrepreneur told EUobserver, "this government is made up of theorists and academics. We need pragmatism, which Italian politicians do not have, neither in Rome nor in Milan or Venice".

"I'm not sure if Renzi did right or wrong in pulling the plug on Conte's government" says Carlo Valerio, entrepreneur and president of the Padua section of the Confederation of Italian small and medium industry. "Renzi is very good at making himself disliked. Some of the things he says make sense, others don't".

For Crosetto, "there is a total lack of knowledge of the business world on the part of the majority of the Italian bureaucracy and political class".

Many liberal and conservative media are now calling for a technical government led by Mario Draghi, described as a "saviour of the country" in waiting.

For Valerio, "we are talking about more than €200bn, and the only person in Italy who really knows what €200bn is, is Draghi".

Author bio

Valentina Saini is a freelance journalist specialising in Italian social issues and politics, gender issues and the Middle East and North Africa region.

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