“The government is not in danger,” he said once again.
It’s about the delicate union at the center of Italy’s political landscape, where two very different parties – the far-right League and the politically amorphous Five Star Movement – come together to determine the fate of Europe’s first all-populist government. western.
Italian newspapers document the tensions almost daily. Some analysts predict that the coalition will not last beyond the spring.
Others say the two parties, despite political clashes, share anti-establishment DNA — and have reason to stick together in a country where voters en masse have turned away from the political status quo. If either party ended the relationship, they would need the help of less popular old-guard parties to win new elections. Meanwhile, the current government is reasonably popular, with an approval rating of over 50%.
“It’s not a marriage of love. It’s a marriage of convenience,” said Roberto D’Alimonte, professor of political science at Luiss Guido Carli University in Rome. “Sometimes marriages of convenience last Longer.”
Although the relationship has held, some experts say tensions have increased because one side, the League, is clearly overtaking the other. Led by Matteo Salvini, the League entered the coalition last year as the smallest and least popular party. But he has soared in the polls and now claims the support of some 36% of Italian voters, compared to 21% for the Five Star Movement. The League recently defeated the Five Star Movement in several recent regional elections.
Some Five Star members say the party has been outwitted and overshadowed by Salvini, a tireless social media promoter who is the architect of Italy’s tough anti-migration policies. Salvini holds the title of interior minister, but is widely seen by Italians as the country’s de facto leader.
“How long will the Five Stars take it?” said Ilvo Diamanti, professor of political science at the universities of Paris and Urbino, Italy. “Polls are one thing. But when you end up being wiped out in the two regions where they [recently] had a vote, the problems manifest themselves more clearly.
In other ways, the parties are different — and have distinct visions of what populism should look like. The Five Star Movement draws its support from the impoverished south, the League of the Industrial North. The Five Star Movement advocated for Internet-based direct democracy. The League emphasizes “Italians first” nationalism with restrictions on migrants arriving on Italian shores.
The parties have managed to cooperate on economic measures — important in a country that has been experiencing two decades of stagnation. But their various prescriptions – the League has called for tax cuts, the Five Stars want expanded social benefits – threaten to weigh on the country’s budget.
The parties clash in elections to the European Parliament in May.
Members of the Italian political class expect the government to be more vulnerable after these elections. If the Five Star party takes a beating, party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio will face internal pressure to rethink his strategy.
And if his popularity continues to climb, Salvini could be tempted to call new elections in Italy and try to become prime minister.
Given this uncertainty, the high-speed train project, known as TAV, has become another major showdown where party priorities will prevail. Five Star members described the rail line as an environmentally harmful and wasteful expense, especially in a country where other infrastructure projects may be more pressing. But the Northern business class which supports the League are in favor of the project, and Salvini has been pushing for the Turin-Lyon rail link to go ahead. Conte said the government would decide on the project by Friday.
Massimo Franco, columnist for Corriere della Sera newspaper, said Salvini and Di Maio seem to have a strong personal relationship. When faced with decisions that could backfire on either side, they used Conte – a compromise choice for prime minister – as a figure who could absorb some of the criticism.
“Whenever there is a difficult situation, they give the impression that he is the one who decides,” Franco said.
Recently, the five-star move faced a tough decision and ended up offering Salvini a helping hand.
Salvini was set to stand trial on kidnapping charges related to his efforts last year to prevent a coast guard boat with more than 150 migrants on board from returning to Italian shores. Salvini, as minister, enjoyed immunity from prosecution unless a parliamentary committee voted to lift it.
According to analysts, legal protection for a government minister was exactly what Five Star members would have railed against in previous years. This time, however, Di Maio and another five-star minister wrote a letter endorsing Salvini’s actions. Last month, the party put the decision to an online vote, asking its supporters whether Salvini was eligible for immunity. Some 59% said it was. Soon after, a caucus took up the issue, and every member of the five-star committee voted to keep Salvini protected.
“We are a team,” Salvini said afterwards. “There is a team at the head of the government. I thank the team for the trust.
Stefano Pitrelli contributed to this report.