Italy Italian government crisis: Senate meets to set date for no-confidence vote

Italy Italian government crisis: Senate meets to set date for no-confidence vote

Italy's political crisis could move towards resolution this evening. Leading politicians are returning from their summer holidays early to take part in an extraordinary session in the country's upper house.

Senators are tonight (Tuesday) expected to set a date for a vote of no-confidence in Giuseppe Conte's government.

Deputy Prime-Minister Matteo Salvini's says his right-wing League party no longer supports the current alliance with the Five-Star Movement.

Salvini hopes there will be a new election as early as this autumn - as he tries to capitalise on the League's rising popularity.

Italy's coalition government, which has been teetering on the brink of collapse for weeks, may have finally plunged over the edge.

On one side, the deputy prime minister and leader of the right-wing League party, has called for early elections, declaring the government unworkable.

His party is trying to pull the plug on its coalition with the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement, which currently holds the most seats in the chamber and the senate (see graphic below).

The coalition, which was an unlikely one at the outset, has held up for 14 months, but disagreements came to a head last week when Five-Star Movement tried to block plans for a high-speed alpine rail link between Turin and Lyon (TAV).

The League has now presented a no-confidence motion against prime minister Giuseppe Conte, with a date for the vote to be set.

Shaky foundations

It took 88 days to form the coalition government following elections in March 2018. Matteo Salvini took the role of deputy prime minister as well as interior minister, as he vowed to crack down on undocumented migrants. Five-Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio was also appointed deputy prime minister and labour minister. A relatively unknown lawyer, Giuseppe Conte, was picked to serve as prime minister.

It didn’t take long for cracks to appear in the alliance, with the two sides disagreeing over Five-Star Movement's election promise of launching a citizen’s income scheme to address poverty.

They have also clashed along the way on topics such as immigration, the League’s plan for a flat tax rate, and recently over who to support as the next EU Commission president. Five-Star Movement supported president-elect Ursula von der Leyen, while the League opposed her.

Breaking point

The League has jumped on the row over the rail-link (TAV) as an opportunity to present the coalition government as unworkable.

The line, which would connect Turin with Lyon, and include a 58-km tunnel through the Alps, is fiercely opposed by Five-Star Movement over environmental and monetary costs, but supported by the League and most other parties.

Following Five-Star Movement’s unsuccessful attempt to block the legislation, Salvini told Giuseppe Conte the alliance with Five-Star Movement had collapsed and “we should quickly give the choice back to the voters”.

The right-wing party said in a statement it was "useless to go ahead with daily quarrels", and listed a raft of areas in which it had a "different vision" from Five-Star Movement, including infrastructure, taxes, justice, and relations with the EU.

"Italy can no longer put up with the nos, we need yeses, we need to unblock, to build, to work -- enough is enough, we must go to elections," Salvini told supporters in Pescara during a rally.

Prime minister Conte refused to resign because he wants the crisis unleashed by Salvini to be the most transparent “in the history of the republic.'' The League are currently leading in the polls, and Salvini may see an early election as his chance to win power outright.

What happens now?

Conte refused to dissolve the government and told the League they must formally present a no-confidence vote in parliament, which they have done.

This week parliament will debate the issue, and the timetable for the process, but a no-confidence vote faces significant hurdles, as it is opposed by Five-Star Movement and other opposition parties.

Di Maio said triggering a government crisis now was “foolish and dangerous.”

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Parliament is currently closed for summer recess, but that hasn’t stopped Salvini from waging an unofficial election campaign on Italian beaches. Opinion polls give Salvini’s party twice as much voter support as their rivals.

Only President Sergio Mattarella has the power to dissolve parliament and he may be unwilling to do so ahead of preparatory work in September for the 2020 budget, which must be presented to parliament and the European Commission the following month.

Mattarella will meet the parties in order to see if there is another majority in parliament for a new government. He can reappoint Conte or choose someone else to lead a government, but whoever gets picked needs to win a confidence vote in the two branches of parliament.