The governing coalition in Italy, on the verge of breakdown

Atalayar_Mario Conte

The application of the MES or "mechanism to save states" is already a reality after receiving yesterday the "yes" from the Italian Parliament, but it has left very important consequences: the biggest one, putting the current government coalition on the verge of breaking up. The key now will be whether or not the four parties in this coalition approve the State Budget Law, which does not seem so clear. The fact is that there is now an open confrontation between two of the leaders of the coalition: Prime Minister Conte, on the one hand, and the leader of Italia Viva and former Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, on the other. On the 9th in the Senate it became clear to what extent the two are at loggerheads, with the difference that Renzi now seems willing to leave the coalition, which would force President Mattarella to choose between two possibilities: either to appoint a non-political government to manage the so-called "economic emergency", or to dissolve Parliament and call early elections at a very delicate time for general elections.

As we commented in a previous article, after more than a year of procrastination, the Italian government had informed the EU authorities of its final acceptance of the EHM, which involved, on the one hand, submitting to greater financial control by the European Union and, on the other, receiving an injection of some 37 billion (and immediately) which would be directed at combating the devastating effects of the coronavirus crisis. It was well known that three of the four parties in the coalition (Democratic Party, Italia Viva and LeU) were in favour of accepting the MES, while the Five Star Movement refused outright until it had no choice but to give in. But one thing was that Conte and the Five Star ministers gave in on this issue, and another was that the MPs of this party were also willing to ratify it. And here came the unexpected for many: a small group of Five Stars MPs warned that they intended to vote against it, with the result that the MES, bearing in mind that the centre-right also intended to vote against it, would not receive the "yes" from the legislative power with which Conte was to attend the European summit to be held this week.

It was at this point that the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, decided to act immediately, making use of his constitutional prerogatives: either the MES was approved by Parliament or he himself signed the decree dissolving Parliament and called early elections, even though the legislature does not officially end until the early months of 2023.

Atalayar_Sergio Mattarella

In fact, Mattarella was planning to take two measures. The first was to demand Conte's resignation and to appoint a non-political government to manage European funds until the situation allowed elections to be called; and, to continue, to call elections as soon as possible. This non-political government would in principle be presided over by one of the people he trusted most: either the ex-economist-head of the IMF, Cottarelli, whom Mattarella was about to ask to form a government at the end of May 2018, or the jurist Marta Cartabia, President of the Supreme Court of the Magistracy, with whom Mattarella has had a close relationship of trust since both coincided in this court.

However, the one who was most perplexed by what was happening was none other than Matteo Renzi, who could not believe that, on the one hand, the European authorities had already been told "yes" to the implementation of the ESM and, on the other, the main coalition party, Five Stars, had said "no" to that same ESM a few days later. In fact, a minority sector of the party was saying "no", but with enough votes for the resolution in favour of the ESM not to go ahead.

But the leader of Italia Viva, who is known to detest Conte as much as the young Tuscan politician, went from perplexity to the greatest anger when he learned that, in Conte's design for the implementation of the $209 billion the country will receive from the European Reconstruction Fund, he had completely excluded Renzi's formation, even though his 18 senators are decisive in bringing about any vote in the upper house, where the government at present does not have an absolute majority but only a simple one.


Conte had no choice but to end up giving orders to the Five Star parliamentarians to vote in favour of the ESM on the grounds that the European Union would be asked to modify its format, which in practice was like saying nothing: just a way of saving face. So on the 9th, in the lower house and in the morning, the resolution in favour of the ESM went ahead. But the reality is that the worst was to come for Conte in the afternoon, in the vote that was to follow in the Senate. Because Renzi would be there, and we should remember that in addition to being the leader of Italia Viva he is also a senator for Tuscany, and this time the young but already struggling ex-prime minister did not take much notice.

So, after Conte appeared before the parliamentarians gathered there, Renzi, when the time came to speak, publicly told him that he found the way in which he was managing European funds regrettable, accusing him of having considered the government a kind of "task force" and reminding him that, if he himself (Renzi) had prevented Salvini from being "premier" by asking for "full powers" from the citizens, he was even less willing to give them to the current "premier". And he offered him, with the greatest of contempt, the three positions his party currently holds in the current government: a ministry (Agriculture), a ministry without portfolio (Equal Opportunities) and an undersecretariat (Foreign Affairs). All of this in the face of the rejoicing of a centre-right politician who applauded Renzi for the harshness with which he was speaking to the President of the Council of Ministers.

From here, we will see what happens. Mattarella will want to ensure, first of all, that the current "maggioranza" approves the budgets for 2021. From then on, anything can happen: either a new government is appointed in which Conte is no longer "premier"; or a "non-political" government is appointed; or Conte and Renzi end up achieving a solution that allows the current government to continue. The truth is that the one who is taking the greatest risks is Conte and Five Stars: if the government were lost and early elections were called for a few months from now, this party would not be able to re-elect even a third of its current members of parliament. Renzi would also lose out, but he has surely been forging a broad coalition of the centre and Europeanists for some time now that would allow him to remain alive in the next Parliament to be formed after the general elections, whenever they take place. The fact is that Conte did not want to see the senators he used to have in order to secure a parliamentary majority together with another relevant party (either the League or the PD) lose out (almost all of them are now in the Mixed Group, although some left with Salvini) and the one who precisely has them is none other than Renzi's Italia Viva. And he has made it clear that he is prepared to liquidate Conte at the slightest possibility: we will see what this coalition, which is coming closer and closer to breaking up definitively, has to do with the fear of being swept away by the centre-right in the next general elections.

Pablo Martín de Santa Olalla Saludes is a Doctor of Contemporary History and author of the book Italia, 2013-2018. From chaos to hope (Liber Factory, 2018).