Renzi breaks with the coalition and leaves the government in the air

Matteo Renzi

In the end, it happened what more than one had expected for almost a month: Matteo Renzi broke with the current government coalition and left the "maggioranza" in the air. Something that, knowing Renzi's character, more than one knew it would happen, but many more did not want to accept. The fact is that the senator for Tuscany and prime minister is no ordinary politician: he either accepts what he sees or slams the door without any major difficulties. May others be the ones to fix it. 

In fact, all this began a little over a month ago. Prime Minister Conte, who until then had been basically a "man of the institutions", could not think of a better idea than to design a fund administration for the so-called "Recovery fund" (209 billion euros plus other amounts to be added from other funds) without counting on the party that gave the "maggioranza" to the current government, which was none other than Matteo Renzi's Italia Viva. This is a big mistake, since Renzi is not the kind of person who can just put things in their place, and even less so if the decision is made by someone for whom he does not have the slightest respect, as is the case with Prime Minister Conte, an old acquaintance of his because, when Renzi was Mayor of Florence, Conte taught private law at the University of that same city. 

The youngest "premier" in the history of the First Italian Republic (39 years old when he became President of the Council of Ministers) has always shown himself to be a person of strong character. In less than a decade he has been able to confront the entire leadership of the party with which he began his political career (the PD, founded in October 2007), and he has had a tough time with those who had everything to gain (Pier Luigi Bersani, minister in several centre-left governments); This led him to stand again in the PD primary in May 2017 despite having lost a constitutional "referendum" and ceasing to be prime minister; and this eventually led him to break with the PD (September 2019) to found his own party, Italia Viva.

Renzi, whose party has been bogged down in voting intentions for months (it is not capable of exceeding three percent, although in the elections for the government of seven regions in September 2020 it was able to exceed five percent of electoral support), could not accept being excluded from the design of the "Recovery Fund" in any way: he would have been in a position to support a coalition for at least two years in which his party would have been completely diluted. So he had no choice but to give the "kickback", turning this issue into a personal struggle with Prime Minister Conte, whom Renzi had already decided to send back to teach private law in Florence. 

It should be borne in mind that, despite the open confrontation between Conte and Renzi, the coalition has continued to operate as if nothing had happened. They all voted in favour of the State Budget Law for 2021, and the Health Minister (Roberto Speranza) was able to start the vaccination campaign without major obstacles. Even the design of the so-called "Recovery fund" was finally approved on the night of December 12, although the two ministers from Renzi's party present in the current government abstained. This foreshadowed what happened the following day, when both resigned and left the government in a bigger minority than ever: if they were unable to achieve an absolute majority with Renzi, they were nowhere near a simple majority. 

Giuseppe Conte
Giuseppe Conte

The leaders of the PD, who know Renzi very well from all the years they were together, had already warned the Cinque Stelle Movement of the risk of Renzi leaving the coalition: they knew that the young Tuscan politician was capable of this, and more. That is why they have been trying until the last moment to keep Italia Viva within the coalition, but the situation was hopeless: Renzi wanted the head of Conte, and Cinque Stelle refused because it was the only bulwark he had left, as his process of decomposition was accelerating by the moment. And Renzi knew how to give Conte where it hurt the most: demanding the "go-ahead" for the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which Renzi was clamouring for because it meant an automatic injection of 36 billion, but which Conte refused because it was something of which his formation, already completely blurred, was already rallying.

The "trattiva" (negotiation) to achieve an "intessa" (pact) has lasted over a month, but has failed completely: Renzi, his ministers and his decisive 18 senators (including Renzi, who is for Tuscany) are leaving the coalition for good. Now it is Conte's turn to submit a motion of confidence, in which the main problem is not saving his head, which he can do, but rather forging a new "maggioranza" that can only come from the (increasingly populated) Mixed Group or from senators who leave their party of origin. This is very difficult to achieve, bearing in mind what a closed list system entails (in which all members of parliament must obey their leader if they wish to be re-elected), though not impossible: we will see in the coming days. 

Of course, it remains to be seen what the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, now the decisive man, thinks. If he sees that Conte continues to govern with a more than meagre majority, then he will withdraw his confidence (that is, demand his resignation) and set in motion a non-political government: whether presided over by the man desired by all (the prestigious former president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi) or by other figures (Marta Cartabia, Ignazio Visco, etc.), it will basically be a government in which its "premier" and the people who dominate the economic area do not belong to any political party. This would be a complete failure for the political class, which, as during the Monti Government (2011-13), would be resigned to voting for whatever the new prime minister asked of them and leaving their problems for another time.

We will see what happens in the coming weeks, but what has happened should not surprise anyone. Renzi has always despised Conte, and this one, who has no ascendancy over the political class and who is no more than a grey university professor, has come up with no better idea than to leave aside those who allowed him to govern. This is the umpteenth setback for a party, the Five Star Movement, which is incompetent by nature and was born out of an obvious dissatisfaction with the political class but has made the country even more ungovernable. The reality is that everyone loses out, the least of whom is Matteo Renzi, who was already in political inanity: now, thanks to Conte, he will have the chance to go where he has wanted to go for years, which is close to the centre-right.

Because Renzi has been from the beginning an old-fashioned Christian Democrat, a successor to Alcide de Gasperi, Amintore Fanfani (a Tuscan like himself) or Aldo Moro. And now, outside this coalition, he will feel more comfortable than ever. The question is how a country so important as Italy ( EU's third largest economy) will come out of this situation. Fortunately, once again, it all comes down to less than one politician and lawyer of the prestige of Sergio Mattarella, one of the most prestigious presidents of the First Italian Republic. The solution to all this, in a matter of days or weeks. 

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