ROME (Reuters) – The Italian head of state wants both the cabinet and parliament to approve a European Union recovery plan before any eventual political showdown between the ruling coalition parties, a political source said on Monday.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte faces a confrontation with his coalition partner and former premier Matteo Renzi that could topple his government even as it struggles with COVID-19, and President Sergio Mattarella’s demand will likely prolong the standoff.
In an increasingly bitter tussle, Renzi has been threatening to withdraw his small Italia Viva party from the coalition for weeks. The clash was expected to come to a head at a cabinet meeting slated for Tuesday or Wednesday, when Conte will ask ministers to support his recovery plan, which Renzi has repeatedly criticised.
If Italia Viva’s two ministers refuse to back the package, the prime minister would come under pressure to resign and open a full-blown political crisis, which could lead to the creation of a new government or even early elections.
Mattarella acts as the supreme arbiter in Italian politics and would have to pilot any such crisis, leading negotiations with the various parties to try to head off an election in the middle of a health and economic crisis.
His demand that both the cabinet and parliament should approve the recovery package before entertaining a government crisis serves as a warning to Renzi and Conte to put national interests first and avoid an escalation in hostilities.
A senior member of the ruling Democratic Party (PD) said it would take up to 10 days for parliament to approve any plan once the cabinet has given it the green light.
“The president of the republic speaks common sense,” Renzi said in an interview with RTL radio. The former prime minister, who is looking to boost his visibility as his party flounders in the polls, urged Conte to present his recovery measures in full.
Italy is due to receive some 209 billion euros ($254.83 billion) from a EU fund designed to help revive the bloc’s coronavirus-battered economies, more than any other member state, but its spending plan needs the approval of Brussels.
If the government falls, the coalition parties could seek to draw up a new pact and agree on a revised team of ministers, with or without Conte at its helm.
Alternatively, Mattarella could try to put together a government of national unity that would draw in opposition parties from the centre-right bloc.
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(Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Tom Hogue, Robert Birsel, Crispian Balmer, William Maclean)