‘Enough!’ Salvini raises alarm over ‘pro-EU’ stich-up in Italy – Brussels holds breath

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The eurosceptic Lega leader is pushing for an immediate snap election with the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte set to announce his resignation today. Mr Conte will hand in his resignation to the head of state after a morning cabinet meeting to inform his ministers, his office said.

The prime minister, who has been in office since June 2018, hopes President Sergio Mattarella will give him a mandate to form a new government with broader backing in parliament, senior government sources said.

Nicola Zingaretti, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) in coalition with the Five Star Movement under Mr Conte, called for a third government under the resigning prime minister to be “clearly pro-European”.

Giving his support to Mr Conte, he tweeted: “With Conte for a new government that is clearly pro-European and supported by a broad parliamentary base, which guarantees credibility and stability to face the great challenges that Italy faces.”

But right-wing opposers are demanding a fresh election with Mr Salvini raging at the prospect of yet another government chosen behind closed doors.

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He said: “Enough with this mess, no more wasting time, no more playing games and buying and selling senators.

“Italians need hospitals, open and safe schools and a year of fiscal peace to restore breath and hope to families and businesses.

“This is not the government that can accompany Italy out of this disaster.

“Let’s use the next few weeks to give the people the floor again and then for five years we will have a serious and legitimate parliament and government, not chosen behind closed doors but chosen by Italians.”

Mr Conte lost his majority in the upper house Senate last week, when the centrist Italia Viva party led by former premier Matteo Renzi quit the coalition in a row over the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and economic recession.

The prime minister’s efforts to lure centrist and independent senators to the government’s ranks have met little success.

Italy has had 66 governments since World War Two and administrations are regularly ripped up and then pieced back together in tortuous, behind-the-scenes talks that open the way for cabinet reshuffles and policy reviews.

However, once a prime minister resigns, there is no guarantee a new coalition can form, and always a risk early elections might end up as the only viable solution.

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Earlier, lawmakers in the prime minister’s own coalition warned he would face defeat in parliament this week in a vote over a contested report on the justice system, which could only be averted by handing his resignation.

Mr Conte had resisted resigning so far for fear he might not be reappointed.

Instead, he tried to draw wavering senators into his camp with vague promises of a new government pact and possible ministerial positions.

But his efforts have floundered and lawmakers from the co-ruling (PD) said he needed to stand down and open formal negotiations in order to win time to create a new coalition.

Trying to allay his fears of a political imbroglio, PD politicians said they would support him to lead a new cabinet.

Mr Conte has no direct party affiliation but is close to the largest coalition group, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

It also reiterated its support for him, and has also made clear that it does want any attempt at reconciling with Mr Renzi.

“He is a problem and cannot be part of the solution,” said Stefano Patuanelli, industry minister and a Five Star politician.

Mr Renzi has indicated he would return to the coalition on the condition that Conte accepts a string of demands.

If the prime minister shuns him, his path to securing a solid parliamentary majority will be more difficult, with relatively few senators seen as open to joining the government.

Looking to put pressure on waverers, the main ruling parties have warned that snap elections, two years ahead of schedule, will be the only way out of the impasse unless a solution is rapidly found.

A recent reform cut by one-third the number of parliamentary seats up for grabs at the next national ballot, meaning that many of the current MPs are unlikely to win re-election, whatever the result.

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