Government crisis in italy: coalition collapses

Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Italia Viva party leaves the government. The ways out of the crisis are open. New elections now also seem possible.

Matteo Renzi, leader of the small center party Italia Viva. The latter left the coalition on Wednesday Photo: reuters

Italy’s governing coalition under Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has burst. On Wednesday evening, Matteo Renzi, head of the small centrist Italia Viva party, appeared before the press together with his formation’s two ministers and secretary of state and announced their resignation from their government posts.

Renzi, himself head of government in 2014-2016, thus ended the five-week-long coalition tug-of-war that he himself had initiated in December. Ostensibly, he was concerned with the use of the 209-billion-euro package that Italy will receive from the EU’s "Next Generation EU" program. In addition, Renzi originally had major objections to the six-member body that would control the use of these funds and report directly to Prime Minister Conte.

Renzi was largely able to get his way on both points. The six-member committee was scrapped, and the coalition made improvements to the planned allocation of funds for reconstruction entirely in line with Renzi’s wishes.

On Tuesday evening, the cabinet approved the reconstruction plan – and Renzi’s two ministers abstained. The reason they gave was not so much concerns about the plan, but that the government did not want to draw an additional 37 billion from the European Stability Mechanism.

Saddling up for more

This has been the tactic of the small party Italia Viva in recent weeks and days: to go one better every time Conte and the other coalition partners make concessions. Among other things, Renzi claimed that the government should also get the construction of the Messina Bridge – which would connect Sicily with the mainland – underway.

The impression is therefore obvious that Renzi wanted to overthrow Conte, who is popular among the population, from the very beginning. Conte, however, was able to unite the three other coalition partners – the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, the moderate left Partito Democratico, from which Renzi’s Italia Viva split in fall 2019, and the radical left Liberi e Uguali list – behind him.

But even his isolation in the coalition failed to impress Renzi. Former prime minister and president of the EU Commission Romano Prodi commented in a TV interview as early as Tuesday evening that Renzi wanted the break at any price, and if necessary he would also demand the construction of "a bridge to Sardinia."

And President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella on Tuesday leaked "horror and dismay" at the coalition row in the middle of the pandemic, which in no way took into account "the real country."

Several options

But even these voices could not dissuade Renzi from breaking with the coalition. What is completely open now is what paths there are out of the crisis. Conte could try to compensate for the votes he lacks from the ranks of Italia Viva by recruiting other center politicians* without even submitting his resignation.

The second option would be his resignation with new coalition negotiations. For the time being, however, the other partners are not thinking of sacrificing Conte as prime minister, as Renzi would like. A third way out would be a technocrat government with all-party consensus, which neither the Five Star nor the Partito Democratico want, however. This could ultimately lead to new elections at the end of the government crisis.