Populist party says it won’t back cost of living package and could withdraw from fragile coalition
Former Italian prime minister and 5-Star Movement leader Giuseppe Conte said he was unwilling ‘to sign a blank bill’. Photograph: Mauro Scrobogna/AP
https://www.theguardian.com/-Angela Giuffrida in Rome
The Italian government is close to collapse after the 5-Star Movement said it would boycott a crucial confidence vote in parliament, prompting calls for early elections.
Giuseppe Conte, the former prime minister who leads the populist party, said the funds set aside for a cost of living support package were insufficient and that his senators could not support the bill on Thursday.
“The scenario has changed, we need a different phase,” he told reporters after failing to reach a compromise during talks with the incumbent prime minister Mario Draghi earlier on Wednesday.
“We are ready to support the government but not to sign a blank bill. Whoever accuses us of irresponsibility needs to look in their own backyard.”
Conte has been threatening to pull the 5-Star Movement, which has lost half of its support since emerging as the biggest party in Italy in the 2018 general elections, from Draghi’s broad coalition for weeks.
Draghi, the former European Central Bank chief who was brought in to lead Italy out of the coronavirus pandemic and salvage its economy, said on Tuesday that the government could not survive without the 5-Star Movement while stressing that he would not accept ultimatums.
“A government with ultimatums doesn’t work, at that point it loses its reason for existing,” he added.
Parliamentarians also need to vote on sending more support, including military aid, to Ukraine. The 5-Star Movement has long voiced its opposition to sending arms to the war-torn country.
There have been calls for early elections from coalition and opposition parties in the event of a government collapse.
Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League, said the “Italian people should have their say”, while his far-right counterpart Giorgia Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party was the only one to stay out of Draghi’s coalition, called for immediate elections. Brothers of Italy currently leads in opinion polls.
Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic party, said earlier on Wednesday: “If the government falls, we vote.”
Italy’s next general elections are due to be held next spring. It is unusual for a national vote to take place in the autumn.
The 5-Star Movement has struggled to revive its fortunes under Conte’s leadership. The party has lost dozens of parliamentarians and its former leader Luigi Di Maio, the current foreign minister, split from the group last month, taking dozens more with him.