The Italian government has been thrown into turmoil after former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi withdrew his Italia Viva party from the ruling coalition.
Renzi struck the blow after rejecting plans by current Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on how to spend 209bn euros (£186bn) in EU recovery funds, as part of a EU aid program for the Covid-19 crisis.
The resignations of the two ministers of the small Italia Viva party, Teresa Bellanova and Elena Bonetti, deprived Conte of an essential majority in the Italian Senate. An early election is now “a possibility”, the BBC reports, although “Renzi has very low ratings in the polls”.
The ex-Prime Minister, however, appears to have an even lower rating from his former boss.
Renzi presented “a list of grievances, criticizing Conte’s handling of the [Covid] pandemic and accusing it of hoarding power,” reports AlJazeera. But the former leader “left the door open for return as long as a new political agreement could be worked out”, adds the news site.
The crisis comes as Italy faces its worst economic crisis since World War II while struggling to contain coronavirus outbreaks that have claimed the lives of more than 80,000 Italians, according to last digits – the second highest death toll in Europe after the UK.
Renzi had argued that EU bailout money ‘risked being wasted on handouts rather than wisely invested’ in innovative business ventures, The Guardian reports. “His suggestions were taken on board and the recovery plan was amended and approved by the cabinet on Tuesday evening.”
But while he described the revised plan as a “step forward”, Renzi yesterday reiterated his other key demand – that the bailout also be used to bolster the country’s health service. “The Five Star Movement (M5S), the largest ruling party, has always resisted this for fear of leaving Italy beholden to tough EU austerity rules,” the paper said.
Announcing the resignations of his ministers, Renzi said: “It is much more difficult to leave a government position than to cling to the status quo. We are experiencing a great political crisis, we are discussing the dangers linked to the pandemic.
“Faced with this crisis, the sense of responsibility is to solve the problems, not to hide them.”
Conte now faces the challenge of either bringing Renzi back into the coalition or gaining support from elsewhere in the Italian parliament, in order to avoid an election two years before the end of his term.