Two Italian Ministers Quit, Spark Govt Crisis

This photo taken and handout on April 23, 2020 by the Palazzo Chigi Press Office in Rome shows Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte taking part from his office at Palazzo Chigi in Rome to a videoconference of EU leaders on the virus economic impact, during the country’s lockdown. Handout / Palazzo Chigi press office / AFP.

 

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government was plunged into crisis Wednesday after two ministers from a small but pivotal party quit the ruling coalition, putting it on the brink of collapse.

Former premier Matteo Renzi announced the departure of the ministers from his Italia Viva party, in a long-threatened move that now risks Conte’s majority in parliament.

Italy’s Bishops Attack PM Conte For Extending Ban On Mass

This photo taken and handout on April 23, 2020 by the Palazzo Chigi Press Office in Rome shows Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte taking part from his office at Palazzo Chigi in Rome to a videoconference of EU leaders on the virus economic impact, during the country’s lockdown. Handout / Palazzo Chigi press office / AFP.

 

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte came under attack on Monday from Italy’s Catholic bishops and even some of his own cabinet members for refusing to reintroduce mass once the coronavirus lockdown is lifted.

Conte has unveiled a gradual easing of restrictions that will restore some semblance of former life starting on May 4.

The Mediterranean country’s official death toll of 26,664 is Europe’s highest and second globally only to the United States.

But the number of infections has been ebbing and scientists believe the contagion rate is low enough to gradually get back to work.

Conte has allowed Italians to take strolls in parks and go jogging starting next Monday.

More stores will reopen and restaurants will resume takeout service.

READ ALSO: French Police Seize 140,000 Black Market Face Masks

Even museums will unlock their gates on May 18 in an effort to drawback tourists and help out Italy’s devastated hotel and services industry.

But there will still be no mass and attendance at funerals will be limited to 15 people.

Conte and Health Minister Roberto Speranza agreed with a scientific committee conclusion that “the elderly in the parish are too frail to risk”, La Repubblica daily wrote.

The bishops are livid.

“We cannot accept to see the freedom of worship compromised,” the Italian Episcopal Conference of the country’s top bishops said in a statement.

“Why on earth, with proper precautions, can you go to a museum but not to mass?”

– Powerful enemies –

The Corriere Della Sera newspaper said the bishops had been lobbying Conte to allow Sunday mass services that would be limited to about 20 people.

They also urged up to 15 people to permitted to attend weddings and baptisms — currently also restricted to just the pastor and immediate family members.

But Conte only allowed broader access to funerals and promised to look into how other religious curbs can be relaxed in the coming weeks.

“I understand that freedom of worship is a fundamental people’s right,” Conte told the nation on Sunday.

“I understand your suffering. But we must continue discussing this further with the scientific committee.”

Italy’s Family Minister Elena Bonetti called Conte’s decision “incomprehensible”.

“It is up to politicians to protect the country’s wellbeing, and religious freedom is among our fundamental rights,” the minister said.

La Repubblica daily warned that Conte was developing powerful enemies at a critical juncture.

Italy’s competing political forces had appeared to put aside their squabbles as the nation entered what was widely regarded as its gravest emergency since World War II.

But Conte has been coming under growing criticism and pressure from regional leaders and political opponents as he decides which industries to open up first.

“This is the (bishops’) first open conflict with the prime minister,” La Repubblica noted.

“There is a battle being waged over everything.”

AFP

Italy PM Conte Launches New Government

Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio (L) shaking hand with Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella as Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (R) looks on after signing an oath of office during a swearing-in ceremony of Italy’s new Cabinet at the Quirinale presidential palace in Rome. AFP

 

President Sergio Mattarella on Thursday swore in Italy’s new pro-European government, heralding a fresh start for the eurozone’s third largest economy as the far-right falls from power.

Brussels warmly welcomed the coalition between the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which is expected to markedly improve rocky relations between Europe and Rome.

“We’re ready to give our utmost for the country,” M5S head Luigi Di Maio, the new foreign minister, said.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government still faces votes in parliament on Monday and Tuesday.

First on the cabinet’s to-do list is the 2020 budget, which has to be submitted to parliament by the end of September, and then to Brussels by October 15.

READ ALSO: I Will Rather Die Than Delay Brexit, Says Boris Johnson

The pick of the PD’s Brussels-savvy Roberto Gualtieri as finance minister was hailed as “extremely positive, especially for the relationship with the EU” by Lorenzo Codogno, former chief economist at the Italian Treasury Department.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker congratulated Conte and said Italy’s new political era came at “an important moment for our Union”, adding that he was sure Rome would play a “front-line” role on key issues.

Italy has put forward former centre-left premier Paolo Gentiloni as its candidate for the incoming European Commission.

PD chief Nicola Zingaretti said it was an “excellent choice for Italy, which returns to playing a leading role in Europe”.

The previous coalition between the M5S and far-right Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigrant League had fought bitterly with Brussels over its big-spend budget and critics had bemoaned Rome’s sidelining in the EU halls of power.

The markets welcomed the new cabinet, with Milan’s FTSE Mib stock market up 0.5 percent after the swearing-in ceremony.

US ratings agency Fitch warned however that Italy would quickly need to provide “clarity on important choices of fiscal and economic policy”.

‘Anti-Salvini’ 

The new cabinet is the youngest ever in Italy’s post-war history — the average age being 47 — and has more ministers from the country’s disadvantaged south than the wealthy north.

Of the 21 ministers, nine hail from the PD, 10 from the M5S, one from the small left-wing Free and Equals party, and one has no affiliation with any political party — the new interior minister.

Political watchers have warned the tie-up between the Movement and PD — bitter foes until just weeks ago — is fragile.

“We are very aware that the forces that make up this government have harshly opposed each other over the years,” PD heavyweight and new culture minister Dario Franceschini said.

“The path ahead is difficult, but… we’ve agreed with Di Maio that this will not be a government of strife”.

New interior minister Luciana Lamorgese, a former Milan security chief, takes over from firebrand Salvini — the social media populist who pulled the League from the previous coalition last month, collapsing the government.

Salvini had hoped to send Italy straight to the polls to take advantage of his soaring popularity figures.

On Thursday he predicted the new government “won’t last long”.

“We’ll oppose it in parliament, in the town halls, in the town squares, and then finally we’ll vote, and we’ll win,” he said.

Posting a picture of a crucifix, he insisted he was the man to protect Italy’s “values, culture, identity, freedom”.

Arcigay, Italy’s biggest LGBT association, hailed the return of the equal opportunities minister post in the cabinet — absent in the last government — saying it was urgent to “combat hatred” fomented by the right during its 14-months in power.

Salvini was reported to have refused to be in place at the interior ministry to hand over the keys to his successor.

Lamorgese “is the anti-Salvini,” said the Repubblica daily.

“She has no social networks. She won’t ever be seen doing live Facebook videos from the rooftop of the interior ministry.”

Lamorgese will however be tasked with handling Italy’s divisive immigration issue, a subject that won Salvini votes as he cracked down on charity ships rescuing people attempting the perilous Mediterranean crossing from Africa to Europe.

AFP

Italy’s PM Conte Resigns, Heads Caretaker Govt

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (C), flanked by Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini (L) and by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Development, Labour and Social Policies, Luigi Di Maio (R), delivers a speech at the Italian Senate, in Rome, on August 20, 2019, as the country faces a political crisis. Andreas SOLARO / AFP

 

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Tuesday tendered his resignation as promised to President Sergio Mattarella, who asked him to stay on at the head of a caretaker government pending consultations, officials said.

Conte earlier announced that he would resign as premier, after launching a scathing attack on far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini for “irresponsibly” trying to bring the government down.

AFP

 

Italy’s PM Conte To Resign Amid Coalition Row

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte delivers a speech at the Italian Senate, in Rome, on August 20, 2019, as the country faces a political crisis.  Andreas SOLARO / AFP

 

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Tuesday he will tender his resignation at the end of a Senate debate on his government prompted by far-right leader Matteo Salvini.

“I’m ending this government experience here… I will go to the president of the republic (Sergio Mattarella) to inform him of my resignation”, after a Senate debate, Conte said after an almost hour-long speech to the chamber.

“It is irresponsible to initiate a government crisis,” Conte said after Salvini began his efforts to bring down the government in the hope of snap elections he hoped would make him premier.

“It shows personal and party interests,” Conte said of the end of the alliance between the anti-migrant League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

Conte was speaking following a week of the fallout from Salvini’s decision to back out of the alliance on August 8, plunging the eurozone’s third-largest economy into political turmoil.

Afer Conte announced his intention to resign, Salvini hit back saying: “Thank you, finally, I would do it all again.”

Salvini “violated the solemn promise he took when the government began that if there were differences they should be discussed in good faith and with loyal collaboration,” Conte said as League senators booed and hissed.

“Making citizens vote is the essence of democracy, asking them to vote every year is irresponsible,” Conte added.

“I heard you calling for ‘full powers’ and invoke (demonstrations in) the piazzas to support you, which worries me,” Conte said.

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in 1922 assumed so-called full powers to govern the country at his whim.

“We don’t need full powers but leaders who have a sense of institutions,” Conte said.

A small group of protesters heckled League senators as they arrived at the Senate.

“Get out, buffoons, get out mafia,” the protesters shouted, prompting a League senator to wave his middle finger at them.

Other protesters held banners reading “I’m with Salvini”.

The likely end of the 14-month-old government would open the way for Mattarella to begin consultations with political parties, with a range of options available.

A snap election, the forming of a new coalition without holding a new vote and, although unlikely, the continuation of the current government, would all be considered.

Ahead of the premier’s speech, protesters unfurled a banner near parliament that read: “Conte, Italy loves you”.

But Salvini told Radio 24 that the other parties feared new elections: “What is the point of a government with everyone ‘against Salvini’? A government must be strong to be able to act.”

 Debt-laden economy 

The political crisis has raised concerns about the Italian economy, whose debt ratio at 132 per cent of gross domestic product is the second-biggest in the eurozone after Greece.

Since the unwieldy government was formed in June 2018, uncertainty under the coalition has cost the country an extra five billion euros ($5.54 billion) in interest on its debt, the Il Sole 24 Ore financial newspaper reported.

Salvini’s plan for a snap election — more than three years early — had envisioned a vote in October followed by him being crowned as prime minister.

According to opinion polls, the League could form a coalition with the anti-immigration, anti-LGBT Brothers of Italy, and possibly Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia.

But a bid by his rivals to put aside their differences and forge an alliance could derail Salvini’s plan, with a coalition between M5S and the opposition centre-left Democratic Party (PD) being discussed.

While there is bad blood between the two parties, M5S is languishing in the polls and wants to avoid an early election.

A PD-M5S coalition could lead to the opposite of what Salvini intended — with him out of government altogether instead of being its sole leader.

 ‘Untrustworthy traitor’ 

According to some analysts, Conte could also stay on as premier while trying to form an alliance with PD.

M5S leader Luigi Di Maio sent an open letter on Tuesday calling for Conte to take this option, describing him as a “rare pearl, a servant of the nation that Italy cannot lose”.

Caught on the back foot, Salvini has sought to re-establish some coalition ties and said he would be willing to back an M5S proposal to cut the number of lawmakers from 950 to 605, but only if new elections were then swiftly held.

Salvini has been furious at the idea of being squeezed out by an M5S-PD alliance, saying he would get his supporters to “peacefully take to the streets” if it came about.

Salvini has also softened his tone regarding the premier, saying: “Conte remains my prime minister and my phone is always on.”

But M5S founder, the comedian Beppe Grillo, has rejected talk of reconciliation with Salvini, whom he reportedly described as an “untrustworthy traitor”.

 

AFP

Italy’s PM Conte Praises ‘Robust’ Economy On Russia Visit

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at the Kremlin in Moscow on October 24, 2018. Sergei CHIRIKOV / POOL / AFP

 

Italian premier Giuseppe Conte on Wednesday boasted of the “robust” Italian economy during a visit to Moscow as his government is crossing swords with Brussels over Rome’s 2019 budget.

“Let’s be certain that the fundamentals of our economy are strong, our economy is robust and we only need to go forward. The government will do its part” to help businesses, Conte told an Italian-Russian business council in Moscow.

“We are the second manufacturing power in Europe, we are probably the country which has the strongest fabric of micro and small businesses, and we are proud of this,” he said.

The populist prime minister, who visits Russia just days after his far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini, also met President Vladimir Putin Wednesday and invited him to visit Italy.

“We have a great team — the government, the institutions, the businessmen, the workers. We have to play as a team,” he said.

“In the (2019) budget, we pay attention also to the decrease of taxes, because we take into account that cost of labour in Italy has increased over time and weighs on our competitiveness,” he said, adding that Italy should “hold all the cards to free its potential.”

The populist coalition in Italy on Tuesday denied any modification to its next year budget despite the rejection of the document by the European Commission, an unprecedented move in the history of the European Union.

Salvini, head of the far-right Ligue and a strongman in the coalition government with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) on Wednesday dug his heels on the budget.

“They would want us to cut the funds for health, for disability, for the right to education,” he told Italian radio station RTL. “There’s no way. If they continue inflicting random blows, it makes me want to give the Italian people more money.”

AFP

Italy’s New PM, Conte Begins Work

Italy’s Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte (R) talks with European Parliament President Antonio Tajani during a ceremony marking the anniversary of the Italian Republic (Republic Day) on June 2, 2018 in Piazza Venezia, in Rome. Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

 

Italy’s new Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, attended a military parade on his first full day in office Saturday, while his outspoken deputy Matteo Salvini was to head to Sicily as part of his campaign against illegal immigration. 

The military parade, which Conte attended alongside President Sergio Mattarella, marked Republic Day for the foundation of the Italian Republic in 1946.

Conte was finally sworn in on Friday afternoon at the head of an anti-establishment and eurosceptic government, ending months of uncertainty since elections in March.

The 53-year-old academic heads a government of ministers from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the far-right League Party, the first populist coalition in a founding EU member.

A political novice, he inherits a daunting list of issues from his predecessor Paolo Gentiloni, including the financial travails of companies such as Ilva and Alitalia, a Group of Seven summit in Canada and a key EU summit at the end of the month, as well as the thorny question of immigration.

Immigration is the bugbear of Conte’s interior minister, Salvini, the 45-year-old leader of the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam League, who announced Friday he would visit Sicily to see the situation for himself at one of the main landing points for refugees fleeing war, persecution and famine across North Africa and the Middle East.

“The immigration question remains a hot-button issue, even if the number of new arrivals has fallen,” said Salvini, an ally of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

“I’ll be in Sicily on Sunday. The situation is now calm but only because of the rough seas.”

More than 150 migrants, including nine children, disembarked from a rescue ship late Friday in Sicily.

Salvini had said after being sworn in that he would ask his ministry’s experts “how to reduce the number of arriving migrants and increase the number of expulsions.”

 Outspoken deputies 

As premier, Conte will be responsible for pushing through the anti-austerity and pro-security promises that the two populist parties campaigned on.

Salvini and Economic Development Minister Luigi Di Maio, head of the M5S, also serve as deputy premiers to Conte.

While Conte has hardly made any public statements since being appointed, both Di Maio and Salvini have been much more outspoken.

EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker called Saturday for Conte’s new eurosceptic Italian government to be treated with respect, having earlier told Italians to work harder and stop blaming the EU for the country’s problems.

“We should show respect towards Italy,” Juncker said in an interview with the German press group Funke Mediengruppe.

Juncker said Italy must not suffer the same fate as thrice-bailed out Greece whose dignity was “trodden under foot” by its creditors when left-wing Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras took office in 2015.

“That must not happen again in the present case with Italy,” Juncker said.

“Italians have a clear understanding of what is good for their country. They will sort it out.”

AFP