After days of escalating political tensions, key players in Italy’s coalition government attempted to navigate their way to calmer waters on Friday, pledging to meet and discuss their differences in a bid to keep the government united. .
The two main ruling factions, the far-right League party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, are increasingly at odds, even trading personal barbs, suggesting the coalition could crumble after less 14 months in power, forcing snap elections. .
As cabinet members gathered for a scheduled meeting in Rome on Friday, League chief Matteo Salvini said he would sit down with five-star chef Luigi Di Maio. Both men hold the post of Deputy Prime Minister and are seen as the real powers of the government nominally headed by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
“We will definitely meet,” Mr. Salvini said in a statement. “The problem is not Di Maio, but the opposition coming from many five-star politicians.”
At a press conference shortly after the cabinet meeting, Mr Conte said: “None of my ministers has ever proposed a government reshuffle”. He ruled out the possibility of a change in the balance of power within the coalition to avoid a political crisis.
Five Star opposes some of the League’s proposals, such as granting greater autonomy to the regions, a change dear to the wealthier northern regions that are strongholds of the League. The Movement fears the legislation will damage its own strongholds, the southern regions, whose weaker economy makes them more dependent on central government funds.
The sniping between them reached a new level of intensity on Thursday, with bitter statements from both leaders.
In the morning, Mr Salvini accused Five Star of treason for voting in favor of the dominant candidate for the presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen of Germany, whom he saw as an expression of “the old “. Five Star’s backing in the European Parliament was crucial to Ms von der Leyen’s narrow victory on Tuesday, and a rejection of the sweeping change that Mr Salvini said was needed.
Asked by a journalist if there was a lack of trust between the League and its partner in power, he replied: “Yes there is. Unfortunately also personal trust, because I trusted them for months and months.
Mr. Di Maio’s response was almost immediate. In a Facebook Live video, he scrolled through the morning papers, accusing the League of fabricating lies and making threats against his party.
For more than a week, Italy’s national media devoted wide attention to a conversation last year in a central Moscow hotel that suggested a plan to covertly fund the League with Russian money ahead of the European elections.
Milan prosecutors opened an investigation into the proposed deal this year and acquired an audio recording of the meeting between a close aide of Mr. Salvini, Russian officials, an international lawyer and a banking expert. An Italian investigative magazine published a report of the meeting in February.
Last week, BuzzFeed News released a transcript of the recording and released excerpts from it, confirming Italian media reports of the meeting. Since then, television cameras have followed prosecutors and their questioning of Italian nationals who attended the meeting with minute-by-minute reports.
Mr Salvini denied that his party had ever taken money from Russia or any other foreign source. But the media reveled in revealing details of his personal closeness to recorded assistant talking with the Russians, Gianluca Savoini, the president of the Lombardy Russia association. And photos of the two men smiling and hugging filled the front pages of newspapers.
Political commentators speculated on whether Mr Salvini could welcome a government collapse and whether he was stoking tensions within the coalition to distract from the Russian affair.
The possibility of a coalition split made headlines on the websites of the country’s major newspapers on Thursday night, as rumors swirled about a possible meeting between Mr Salvini and Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
Such a meeting could have signaled Mr. Salvini’s desire to force a crisis. In this case, the president would consult with senior officials and assess whether the government could continue and decide to call an election.
A senior official in the president’s office, however, said Mr. Salvini had made an informal request to meet with Mr. Mattarella a few days ago, but no date had been set. The request did not specify the reason for the meeting.
Late Thursday night, Mr. Salvini said he would not meet with Mr. Mattarella on Friday, and that there would be no immediate crisis.
“No government will fall tomorrow,” he told Rete 4 TV channel. “I am moving forward calmly,” he added, “but if I have to hear ‘no’ every days, then it becomes difficult.”
The two ruling parties are linked through a governance agreement aimed at reconciling their divergent agendas.
“Nothing personal,” Mr. Salvini said Friday morning. “Di Maio is a fair and decent person.”