Italian parties reach deal to form new coalition government

  • 28 Aug 2019

The deal between populist 5-Star Movement and centre-left Democratic Party, two historic enemies, is set to bring to an end what Italian newspapers have dubbed “the craziest crisis ever”.

Talks on a new government slowly progressed as parties agreed to reinstall Giuseppe Conte as prime minister. In this file photo, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini (L) reacts as Conte addresses the upper house of parliament in Rome, Italy. August 20, 2019. ( Reuters Archive )

Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the centre-left Democratic Party clinched a deal Wednesday to form a new government and stave off elections in the eurozone’s third largest economy. 

5-Star said the coalition would be led by outgoing prime minister Giuseppe Conte, who had resigned following the collapse of the populist government earlier this month.

5-Star head Luigi Di Maio told journalists at the presidential palace in Rome that the endorsement Tuesday of Conte by US President Donald Trump "had shown us we were on the right path". 

The parties had been bickering over whether Conte — a soft-spoken former academic chosen as a compromise prime minister last year — should lead a new coalition or whether a fresh face would better signal a fresh start. 

Di Maio has warned however that any deal with the Democratic Party (PD) would still have to be approved by party members in an online vote.

The talks, which remain tense and could still break down, had been at risk of collapse over who should be named prime minister but the PD confirmed on Wednesday that it had dropped its opposition to Conte, removing one big barrier to a deal.

The PD's leader also secured the backing of the party's executive on Wednesday to forge an alliance with 5-Star, despite a history of bitter relations between the two political rivals.

"We decided to agree to Conte as prime minister because that was what 5-Star wanted," PD boss Nicola Zingaretti said.

Both sides have yet to agree on other top government posts or reveal a common policy agenda, with only hours remaining before an effective Wednesday evening deadline for a deal.

President Sergio Mattarella has asked them to report back to him on progress later in the day. If they fail to strike a deal, he is expected to name a caretaker government and call elections as early as October.

'Deputy PM must be from PD'

The focus of talks is now shifting to the role of deputy prime minister.
The PD wants this job for one of its own, now that it has agreed to Conte staying on as prime minister.

"The problem is that if there is a premier from the 5-Star it is fair that his deputy is from the PD," PD deputy leader Andrea Orlando said on Twitter.

Conte, a virtually unknown lawyer when he was chosen by the League and 5-Star to lead their new government last year, is not a member of any political party, though he is seen as being close to 5-Star.

Even in the event of a deal, another potentially major roadblock remains. The 5-Star announced in a blog post on Tuesday that any deal would need to be approved by an online vote of its members.

Many of its rank and file are hostile to the PD and have used social media to urge Di Maio not to do a deal.

"Every party has its procedures. We hope it is going to be a great day," PD's Senate Chief Andrea Marcucci told reporters before entering a meeting with his 5-Star counterpart in parliament.

The prospect of a new government led by Conte has buoyed markets, betting that Italy will avoid snap elections.

Investors fear they would be won by Matteo Salvini's hard-right League party, which would put Rome on a collision course with the European Union over expansionary government spending.

In mid-morning trade, the gap between Italy's 10-year bond yield and Germany's bund was at 182 bps, the lowest since May 2018, down from Friday's 200 bps.

Conte's likely appointment as prime minister of Italy's 67th government since World War II was also hailed on Tuesday by US President Donald Trump.