Matteo Renzi, former Italian Prime Minister and Senator from Florence
Credit: Flickr/Palazzo Chigi
In almost 73 years of existence, the Italian Republic has had 65 governments. This means that on average the governments lasted less than 1 year and 2 months.
The current government, Conte II – it is customary to number governments by the name of their president – has lasted 501 days and continues, but now finds itself in the not unusual position of no longer having an unofficial majority in Parliament. A government, officially called “Council of Ministers” by the Republican Constitution of 1948, requires the confidence of both branches of Parliament, and when there is reason to believe that this confidence no longer exists, the Presidents of the Council of Ministers often call for a vote of confidence. This is exactly what will happen at the beginning of the coming week. But how did we get here? Let’s take a few steps back in time.
The second government of Giuseppe Conte took office on September 5, 2019, after some unrest in his first government, Conte I. Arguably the “institutional” leader of the bunny out of the hat of the 5 Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle – unaffiliated), Conte was able to form his second government thanks to an agreement between the 5 Star Movement, the Democratic Party (Partito Democratico – S&D), Italy Alive (Italia Viva – RE) and the Italian Left (Sinistra Italiana – not in the EP ). As a government formed to prevent anti-European forces from holding power in the country’s second highest institution thanks to a strong push from Italia Viva itself, it brings together forces from a wide variety of backgrounds. The agreements between its components have often proved difficult to conclude and to respect. While the Covid-19 pandemic may have helped its cohesion for a time, events in recent months have made one of its components, Italia Viva, skeptical about keeping it alive.
This skepticism materialized on January 13, when during a press conference held by Matteo Renzi – former President of the Council of Ministers, head of Italy Viva, and members of the government belonging to Italia Viva, the party announced the withdrawal of its delegations from Tale I. This was something that was being talked about in the days leading up to the press conference, and something that had been considered a possibility in recent months.
Beyond what could be defined as deep ideological differences between the Five Star Movement and Italia Viva, the main reasons why the party led by Matteo Renzi invoked this decision are strictly related to the way the Italian government prepares the reception of the grants and loans stemming from the recovery plan of the European Union and how it manages the current phases of the response to the pandemic. The objects of internal criticism, in this regard, have been the reluctance of the Five Star Movement to activate the special pandemic relief funding line of the MES, and the centralized role of Giuseppe Conte and some of his entourage has been accused to perform in pandemic-related activities. communication to the public and in the distribution of vaccines. In addition to all this, Italia Viva is concerned that Giuseppe Conte has held the intelligence function in its hands – a function that is traditionally held by another person serving at the pleasure of the President of the Council of Ministers, a possibility offered by the law. As often in recent years, the weight of European issues on Italian politics directly or indirectly affects its functioning.
This is not only true in the twist of Italia Viva on the story, but also in the twist that the forces remaining within the perimeter of the government give it. Denouncing the alleged irresponsibility of Italia Viva – in particular Matteo Renzi – given the current situation, the Five Star Movement, the Democratic Party and the Italian Left say that this decision could compromise not only the struggle of the government and the country to counter the pandemic, but also Conte and the longstanding credibility of his government in the eyes of European institutions and partners. By beating on the drum Renzi’s supposed desire for more power and by declaring that his decision is incomprehensible, it seems that what is left of the government is playing the right chord of public opinion, since Renzi, after his defeat in the referendum of 2016, is undoubtedly one of the least appreciated. politicians according to popular polls.
While in the meantime Italia Viva’s decision has received Renew Europe’s endorsement in the form of a statement issued by Dacian Cioloș, it appears that the party that caused the situation may be willing to give another luck to Conte. As usual in Italian parliamentary tradition, informal talks have taken place between political forces of all sizes and shapes to see if the numbers can somehow add up and keep the current government alive, and new possible schisms within Italia Viva itself or imminent snap elections. could make Renzi and his people think that it might be a good idea to try again while trying to extract more concessions on his renewed participation in the faltering coalition government.
Two very intense days are ahead of the men and women serving in the Italian Parliament and in newsrooms across the country and the continent. On a lighter note, it reminds me of an encounter I had with Michael Dobbs, the author of the House of Cards novels in 2014, when Renzi himself was Prime Minister. Over a meal, he told the table that he had recently met Renzi, a self-proclaimed fan of his. Knowing the president’s political ruse, he had decided to give him a signed copy of his book, with a special dedication: “Matteo, remember that this is only fiction”. Hoping my memory doesn’t fail me, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for possibly witnessing another act of Renzi’s political trickery unfold – if trickery, not miscalculation.