Italy’s PM in scathing attack on Salvini as he announces resignation
Giuseppe Conte says his deputy prime minister is harming the nation for political gain
Italy’s deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, gestures as prime minister Giuseppe Conte criticises him in a speech to the Senate on Tuesday. Photograph: Ettore Ferrari/EPA
Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister, gestures as prime minister Giuseppe Conte pauses during his speech to the Senate on Tuesday. Photograph: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg
Prime minister Giuseppe Conte is flanked by deputy prime ministers Matteo Salvini (left) and Luigi Di Maio as he addresses the Senate as he addresses the Senate on Tuesday. Photograph: Ettore Ferrari/EPA
Matteo Renzi, Italy’s former prime minister, addresses the Senate following prime minister Giuseppe Conte’s speech on Tuesday. Photograph: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg
Italy’s prime minister resigned on Tuesday after launching a blistering attack on his interior minister, Matteo Salvini, accusing him of sinking the ruling coalition and endangering the economy for personal and political gain.
Prime minister Giuseppe Conte, addressing parliament after it was recalled from its summer recess to decide the future of the 14-month-old government, accused League party chief Mr Salvini of seeking to cash in on his rising popularity.
“[Mr Salvini] has shown that he is following his own interests and those of his party,” Mr Conte told a packed senate, as a stony-faced Mr Salvini sat by his side. “His decisions pose serious risks for this country.”
He described the actions of Mr Salvini, who declared the coalition unworkable 12 days ago and called for snap elections, as recklessness “liable to tip the country into a spiral of political uncertainty and financial instability”.
After the senate debate Mr Conte, who belongs to neither of the coalition parties, handed his resignation to president Sergio Mattarella. The president asked Mr Conte and his government to stay in place as a caretaker cabinet while he carried out talks with parliamentary groups on Wednesday to see if a new coalition could be formed.
Failing that, Mr Mattarella would have to dissolve parliament, 3½ years ahead of schedule, to allow for autumn elections.
The consultations with party delegations will begin with minor groups at 3pm Irish time on Wednesday. Mr Mattarella will hear all the main parties on Thursday, concluding with Five Star.
The PD’s leadership is also scheduled to meet on Wednesday to discuss the prospect of hooking up with Five Star. The two parties have been bitter political foes for years.
Financial markets rallied on Mr Conte’s resignation, seemingly hopeful that snap polls could be avoided.
Mr Salvini at times shook his head, rolled his eyes or nodded to League senators as the prime minister accused him of being “irresponsible”, “reckless”, “alarming” and “disrespectful”.
Mr Conte said he was worried by Mr Salvini’s threat to call people into the country’s squares if his drive for elections was thwarted, as well as his demand for “full powers”.
“We do not need men who have ‘full powers’, but people who have institutional culture and a sense of responsibility,” he said in an hour-long speech in which he also denounced Mr Salvini’s habit of brandishing the cross at his political rallies.
Mr Salvini rejected Mr Conte’s comments, saying other parties were afraid of going to elections and losing their influence.
He said his political goal was to challenge the European Union’s fiscal rules, which he has blamed for impoverishing the country. Rome should spend at least €50 billion to stimulate the chronically weak economy, he added.
“I am not afraid,” he said “I don’t want Italy to be a slave to anyone, and I don’t want Italy to be given a long chain like a little dog. I don’t want any chain at all.”
Italy has not held an election in the autumn since the second World War because the final months of the year are traditionally dedicated to drawing up the budget – a key moment for a country with one of the world’s largest debt mountains.
Mr Salvini said he was ready to keep the coalition alive to approve a 2020 budget and also vote in a planned reform of parliament before heading to early elections.
“Do you want to cut the number of parliamentarians and then go to vote? We’re ready for that. If you then want to present a courageous budget, then we are ready for that too,” he said.
However, such a scenario is hard to imagine given the mutual recriminations flying between the two coalition partners.
Instead, Mr Mattarella is likely to push for a swift decision by Five Star and the PD on whether they can work together. Failing that, he will probably dissolve parliament and call a vote in late October or early November. – Reuters