In the midst of the pandemic, the government of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte finds itself on borrowed time after Matteo Renzi’s decision on Wednesday January 13 to withdraw his party from the ruling coalition, deprived of the majority coup in Parliament.
After weeks of criticism and threats, Mr. Renzi, Prime Minister from 2014 to 2016, announced during a press conference the resignation of the two ministers of his party Italia Viva: Teresa Bellanova (Agriculture) and Elena Bonetti ( Family). Without the 18 senators of Italia Viva, the government led by Mr. Conte loses its majority in the upper chamber, but retains it in the chamber of deputies.
While the health crisis has already killed more than 80,000 people on the peninsula, Matteo Renzi notably criticizes Mr. Conte for his management, considered lonely, of the pandemic and his plan to spend the more than 200 billion euros that the European Union must grant Italy as part of its mega-stimulus plan.
“We will not allow anyone to have full powers (…) We ask for respect for democratic rules”, said Mr. Renzi. “We have no prejudices either on the names, or on the formulas”, he added, appearing open to a possible new government led by Mr. Conte.
At the same time, he ruled out any support for the right-wing opposition, and in particular the League (extreme right) of Matteo Salvini: “We will never give life to a government with the forces of the sovereignist right that we fought”.
During a cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening, Giuseppe Conte a “Deplored the significant damage that a government crisis causes to our country in the midst of a pandemic”. “These resignations were communicated to me by email and I accepted them”, said the Prime Minister, whose remarks were reported by several media.
The two heavyweights of the coalition, the 5 Star Movement (M5S, anti-system) and the Democratic Party (center left, former formation of Mr. Renzi), assured Mr. Conte of their support. “As the country faces a health crisis, Renzi is withdrawing his ministers. I think no one understands this choice ”, denounced the leader of M5S Vito Crimi, while the deputy secretary of the PD Andrea Orlando deplored “A serious mistake”.
As for the right and the far right, they asked in a joint statement that Conte “Resign immediately or appear before parliament for a vote of confidence”. “If his confidence is refused (…) it will be necessary to organize elections”.
Reshuffle in perspective?
Faced with this crisis, Conte could ask for a vote of confidence in Parliament, hoping to obtain enough votes in the opposition to compensate for the departure of Renzi’s party, even if this option remains unlikely, the head of government believing he has need a majority “Solid” without looking “A voice here a voice there”.
Another hypothesis could be for the Prime Minister to resign and obtain a new mandate from the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella with a reshuffled team. Mr. Conte also spoke Wednesday at his request with Mr. Mattarella. This reshuffle could be a way to appease Renzi by giving his party more important ministries.
According to Lorenzo Castellani, political science researcher at Luiss University in Rome, there are “Two privileged options: a new Conte government after reshuffle, or a change of president of the council, with an institutional figure and technical ministers” to end the current legislature.
“Whatever form this change will take, I think it will be made up of the current majority (…) It will require intense parliamentary work with negotiations between the different parties of the coalition”, he explained in an interview with AFP.
Italy, the third largest economy in the euro area and the first European country to be hit hard by the pandemic, imposed a long lockdown during the first wave and is now facing its worst recession since World War II.