Aiming to Avert Salvini’s Rise, Italy’s Democratic Party Proposes Left-Right Coalition

By James Carstensen | August 21, 2019 | 7:42pm EDT
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. (Photo by Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)

Berlin ( – In a bid to oust Matteo Salvini’s far-right populist League party from government, Italy’s center-left opposition Democratic Party (PD) has said it is willing to form a coalition with Salvini’s erstwhile coalition partner, the populist, euroskeptic Five Star party.

“We are willing to take on the responsibility of creating a government of change for the whole legislature,” PD leader Nicola Zingaretti said on Wednesday.

Zingaretti warned, however, that any such agreement would require Five Star to commit to staying in the E.U. and softening its stance on migration and environmental sustainability.

Five Star’s leader, Luigi Di Maio, has yet to respond publicly to PD’s offer.

The maneuvering follows Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s resignation on Tuesday, after a bitter standoff with Salvini over the fate of a non-governmental organization (NGO)-run migrant rescue ship, the “Open Arms,” which prompted Salvini to table a no confidence vote against Conte.

“When a political force pursues electoral convenience only, it compromises national interest,” Conte told parliament on Tuesday, referring to Salvini’s no confidence vote. “It is irresponsible to initiate a government crisis. It shows personal and party interests.”

Conte then said he was resigning: “I’m breaking off this government experiment here.”

As an independent politician, Conte had acted as a mediator between the governing coalition of the Five Star Movement and Salvini’s League.

Perhaps ironically, Conte’s resignation could hasten snap elections – which Salvini wants – as Italy’s president must now decide whether to dissolve parliament and call new elections, or try to forge ahead with a new majority or caretaker government.

A new election could also jeopardize Italy’s budget. The parliament of Italy, the second-most heavily-indebted E.U. member (after Greece), must approve and present a draft budget to European Union leaders by mid-October.

The PD’s move appears to be a scramble to prevent Salvini from potentially seizing more power: New elections could well benefit the League, which leads opinion polls with approval rates of up to 38 percent.

The League also came out on top in the recent E.U. elections, winning 33.6 percent of the votes in Italy (up from 17.3 percent the previous year), compared to 16.7 percent for Five Star (a drop from 32.7 percent previously).

Salvini and Conte in particular had been at odds over migration policy and the issue of NGO-run ships that rescue migrants in the Mediterranean and then seek to dock in European ports to allow them to disembark. Salvini and the League are strongly opposed to the flow of migrants, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, into Europe.

In the most recent standoff, the Spanish-flagged ship “Open Arms,” carrying 130 migrants rescued at sea, waited off the coast of Italy for 19 days.

Salvini, Italy’s interior minister, rejected a court ruling last Wednesday that the ship should be permitted to dock in Italy. Conte then called on him to reverse his position, and when he didn’t, accused him in an open letter of disloyalty to the government.

By ignoring his position as prime minister, Conte wrote, Salvini displayed “a clear example of disloyal collaboration,” something that he could not accept.

On Saturday, Salvini finally relented to pressure from Conte, but claimed that the decision to allow the ship to dock in Italy “could impose an irreversible and onerous duty on our country.”

The migrants eventually disembarked in the Italian port of Lampedusa on Wednesday.

Léo Portal, a PhD candidate in political science at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, said that even though both Five Star and Salvini’s League began with strong anti-migration stances, their positions have diverged over time.

“Even though the Five Stars Movement also had anti-immigration stances at its creation several years ago, it seems to have become more and more nuanced on the issue when compared to Salvini’s policies,” he said.

Portal said if new elections were held, the likely result would be “a gain of power for the right and the far right.”

A spokesperson for the European Union’s executive Commission, Natasha Bertaud, said she was not aware of any contact with Italian authorities yet, and signaled that the E.U. was instead awaiting the Italian president’s decision on whether to call a new election, or pursue the option of a new caretaker government or forming a new majority.

He is expected to announce it by the weekend, before attending the G7 summit in the French city of Biarritz.

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