Bersani fails to form new Italian government

Centre-left leader cites unacceptable conditions demanded for formation of coalition

Pier Luigi Bersani during a news conference following a meeting with Italian president Giorgio Napolitano in Rome yesterday. Photograph:Tony Gentile/Reuters

Pier Luigi Bersani during a news conference following a meeting with Italian president Giorgio Napolitano in Rome yesterday. Photograph:Tony Gentile/Reuters


Italy’s ongoing government – or indeed no-government – crisis appeared to deepen last night when centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani, after a week of broad consultations with all the major social partners and political parties, reported to President Giorgio Napolitano that he was not in a position to form a new government.

As a result, the ball is yet again back in the court of the president, who in a statement last night indicated he would intervene personally “without delay” in an attempt to identify “possible future developments”.

Even though the context is different, it would appear the clock has been turned back to November 2011, when the president played a critical role in forming the technocrat government of current prime minister Mario Monti, urgently appointed as Italy stood on the brink of financial collapse.

In his statement, the president said Mr Bersani’s consultations had proved “inconclusive”. Significantly, he did not withdraw the mandate given to Mr Bersani a week ago urging him to attempt to form a government.

The president may well hope to use some form of “moral suasion” with the centre-right PDL party of media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, calling on it to collaborate in some obviously limited way with Mr Bersani’s Democratic Party (PD) or with a government led by a “neutral” figure such as former European Commissioner Emma Bonino. The idea may well be the formation of a short-term PD-led government which has essentially two priorities – to reassure the international financial markets and the euro zone and to enact new electoral legislation.

Presidential appointment
In a brief statement last night, Mr Bersani said he was not in a position to form a government because of “difficulties deriving from . . . various terms and conditions that I consider unacceptable”. He did not identify these conditions but commentators believe they may be linked to Mr Berlusconi’s desire to have a major say in the forthcoming appointment of a new president.

One of the dramatic ironies of the crisis, prompted by a general election last month that left the country with a hung parliament, is that it has been rendered all the more critical by the fact that the president’s term of office expires on May 15th.

This means the president will not be around much longer to provide the sort of guidance and protection afforded to Mr Monti, especially in the initial months of government.

In addition, many commentators believe Mr Berlusconi would love to appoint someone acceptable to him as president. Such an appointment could help protect him from his many legal problems, including the current “Rubygate” trial in which he is accused of “involvement in underage prostitution” and “abuse of office” relating to his time as prime minister between 2008 and 2011.

In the wake of last month’s inconclusive election, Mr Bersani appeared to face a mission impossible in forming a government. Essentially, the three major formations that emerged from the elections – the PDs, the PDL and the Five Star protest movement (M5S) – can agree on almost nothing.

Thus far, the majority of the centre-left refuses to form a coalition with the scandal-tainted Mr Berlusconi, while the M5S movement of comedian Beppe Grillo appears determined only to destroy the established parties, left and right. For the time being there is little light to be found at the end of this tunnel.