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Matteo Renzi pulls party out of Italian government



ROME — Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Wednesday withdrew his party from Italy’s coalition government, plunging the country into political chaos.   

Renzi, whose Italia Viva party is a junior partner in a coalition with the 5Star Movement and the Democrats, has been threatening to pull support for Conte’s government for days over Italy’s post-pandemic economic recovery plan. 

He announced the resignation of ministers Teresa Bellanova and Elena Bonetti, who have responsibility for agriculture and family respectively, as well as undersecretary for foreign affairs Ivan Scalfarotto, at a press conference, effectively removing support for the government in parliament and leaving Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s position hanging by a thread.

Renzi, whose nickname is Il Rottamatore (the Scrapper), said it “took courage” to walk away. But politicians inside and outside the coalition slammed the move as irresponsible. The leader of the Democrats, Nicola Zingaretti, told state television it was “an act against Italy. We need investment, work, health, to fight the pandemic. Not a government crisis.”

Vito Crimi, interim leader of the 5Stars, wrote on Facebook: “While the country faces with difficulty, effort and sacrifice the worst, health, social and economic crisis of recent history, Renzi withdraws his ministers. I don’t believe anyone will understand this decision.”

Carlo Calenda, leader of the small Azione party and a former minister in Renzi’s government, said his move was incomprehensible.

“If you start a crisis saying how the prime minister is completely incapable for half an hour, then you say there is no veto on Conte as prime minister, you are very confused or very deranged,” Calenda said.

Earlier in the day, Conte said Italians would find a government crisis incomprehensible in the middle of a pandemic that has claimed 80,000 lives.

Conte said: “I believe that a crisis would not be understood by the country at a time when there are so many challenges.”

Renzi denied responsibility for the crisis, saying it had been going on “for months” because of a lack of quality in the government. Faced with a crisis such as the pandemic, “the responsibility is to resolve problems not to hide them,” he said. 

Renzi criticized Conte’s method of governing with emergency decrees and his habit of communicating via social media, and repeated demands that Italy’s economic recovery plan make use of funds from the European Stability Mechanism. That is a red line for the 5Star Movement, the largest party in the coalition, for whom dismantling the ESM is a core policy dating back to its Euroskeptic origins. 

The way forward is uncertain.

Conte met with President Sergio Mattarella, who has the power to appoint the head of government and will be the referee in any power-brokering, on Wednesday.

Renzi insisted that it was “up to Conte” to resolve the crisis, but indicated that his party could work with the other coalition partners again if there was a stronger government program in place. “There are no vetos,” he said.

Alternatively, Conte could seek to form a government without Renzi’s support, with the help of independents, defectors from the 5Stars or members of small centrist and centre-right parties such as former MEP Giovanni Toti’s Cambiamo!

These smaller, often independent lawmakers have been dubbed the “responsible ones” by local media, but it is unclear if there are enough of them to prop up the government, especially in the Senate, unless some members of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party lend their support, which is a remote prospect.

If he cannot command a majority, Conte must submit his resignation to Mattarella, who will then hold consultations on forming a new government. Renzi has ruled out lending his support to the right, saying he had supported Conte to keep Matteo Salvini of the far-right League out of power.

If no majority can be found, Mattarella could appoint a government of national unity, led by a technocrat — one name that’s been mentioned in the media is former European Central Bank President Mario Draghi — to steer the country through the economic and health crisis.

The opposition parties on the right, which are leading in the polls, called for immediate elections.

The leader of the Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, wrote on Twitter: “Italians are on their knees. The government is a shambles. Italy cannot lose more time, Conte resign. Elections now.”



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