Forming a government in italy: how enemies become partners

In Italy, the Five Stars and the social democratic PD are forming a new government. There are more overlaps than initially thought.

He has a strong online vote of his supporters behind him: the leader of the Five Star Party Di Maio Photo: ap

Italy’s old prime minister is also the new one. After the base of the Five Star Party approved the coalition with the Partito Democratico (PD) in an online vote on Tuesday, it is clear that Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will keep his job.

On Wednesday, the final details of the government program and the cabinet list were still being negotiated. But by then there was already no doubt that the Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S – 5 Star Movement) and the PD wanted to dare the experiment of forming a coalition of hitherto deeply hostile forces.

The online vote – about 117,000 activists who have been registered on the M5S Internet platform "Rousseau" for at least six months were eligible to vote – could not have been clearer. Nearly 80,000 votes were cast, a record turnout never before seen in M5S online voting. A clear majority of 79 percent voted in favor of the coalition with the PD led by Giuseppe Conte. This gives both the M5S leadership under the previous Minister of Labor and Economy, Luigi Di Maio, and the party-less Conte a clear mandate. Di Maio will be the new foreign minister. Since the PD is also almost completely united behind the coalition, it can begin work.

This result cannot be taken for granted. After all, the head of the right-wing populist, xenophobic Lega and former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had been voted out of office on June 8. He triggered the government crisis on August 8 because he assumed that an alternative coalition of M5S and PD was unthinkable. For the Five Stars, the PD was the epitome of the "political caste," and for the PD, the M5S was the spawn of a populism that might even endanger democracy.

The "government of the listless

The coalition negotiations of the past few days once again became evidence of the deep mistrust between the future partners. PD leader Nicola Zingaretti was desperate to prevent Conte from becoming the new-old prime minister in order to send a signal of "discontinuity." As a result, the talks were on the verge of breaking off. Only at the last minute did Zingaretti give in. This was followed by another days-long tug-of-war, as the PD now wanted to prevent M5S leader Di Maio from receiving not only a ministry in the new cabinet, but also the post of deputy prime minister, as before.

Here the PD was able to assert itself, but meanwhile the M5S and PD had not created the image of a new departure, but had above all spread bad humor. Journalist Antonio Padellaro mocked the coming "government of the listless.

Di Maio’s listlessness was still evident during the M5S referendum on Tuesday: The head of the movement could not bring himself to publicly call on supporters to vote yes. That’s what the founding father of the Five Star Movement, comedian Beppe Grillo, did. In a blog post, he lamented the "lack of euphoria," saying that, after all, there was now a "unique opportunity" at this "extraordinary moment." Prime Minister Conte made a similarly emphatic case for extending his own employment contract. It was now "time to get the dreams out of the drawer," he called out to the five-star base.

At least the first lines of the coalition program that have become known invite us to dream. The EU stability targets are to be met, but at the same time an expansionary budget is to be adopted. The new government wants to introduce a significant tax cut for lower and middle income groups. It wants to introduce a statutory minimum wage, invest in the green economy and in schools and universities. It wants to reform the judiciary and reduce bureaucracy in public administrations.

So far, these are mainly mirror strokes, and detailed plans for their implementation are not yet available. However, the definition of the political goals already showed that the overlaps in content are greater than originally assumed.

Matteo Salvini fulminates

Meanwhile, Matteo Salvini of the Lega, who already saw himself as the future head of government, still has to practice the role of opposition leader. So far, his main gripe is that the government has brought together "losers" who wanted to betray Italy’s interests on behalf of Merkel and Macron and are interested solely in the division of posts. The Lega is not taking part in this "horse-trading," Salvini claims, after offering Di Maio the post of prime minister only a week ago if the M5S returns to the Lega’s side.

Salvini is likely to be particularly pained that not only have the new elections he sought failed to materialize for the time being, but that the Lega is in decline in all polls. While the M5S, which had scored only 17 percent in the EU elections in May, is back at 22-24 percent, while the PD is now at 23 percent after scoring 22 percent in the EU elections, the Lega is slipping from its former 34 percent to 30 percent. His claim that a coalition is being formed against the will of the majority of Italian voters is thus becoming increasingly brittle.

This coalition still has three and a half years to go in the current legislative period. That would be enough time to bring about the "turnaround" in the country that PD leader Zingaretti is now promising.

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