ROME – Italy’s government was facing collapse on Wednesday after former prime minister Matteo Renzi withdrew his centrist Italy Alive (IV) party from the ruling coalition.
“Italy Alive has not opened the crisis, the crisis opened months ago,” he said at a press conference in Rome to announce that the party’s two representatives in the Cabinet, Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova and Family and Equality Minister Elena Bonetti, were resigning.
“Much courage and internal freedom is needed to resign, and a sense of responsibility. It’s much harder to leave a seat, a post, than to cling to the tenacious pursuit of the status quo,” Renzi said of the now-former Cabinet ministers.
Bellanova and Elena Bonetti abstained on Tuesday night when Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte called for a Cabinet vote on an amended version of a pandemic recovery plan.
COVID-19 has claimed nearly 80,000 lives in Italy and the number of confirmed cases stands at 2.3 million, while the effects of pandemic lockdowns is estimated to have shrunk gross domestic product by roughly 10 percent.
Renzi, who split from the center-left Democratic Party (PD) in September 2019 to form IV, said he had the utmost confidence in Italian President Sergio Mattarella to act as an honest broker in resolving the political impasse.
Shortly before Renzi’s press conference, Conte told reporters as he was leaving Quirinale Palace following talks with Mattarella that Italians would not understand a bid to topple his administration amid the twin crises of the pandemic and the recession.
The former premier has spent weeks criticizing how Conte intended to use €220 million ($267.4 million) in aid from the European Union’s Recovery Fund.
More fundamentally, Renzi has pushed for Italy to tap the €37 billion in loans available under the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), an option adamantly opposed by the 5-Star Movement (M5S), the largest party in the governing coalition.
So far, no EU member has sought an ESM loan, preferring to rely on grants from the Recovery Program.
The 5-Star, the PD and the other coalition member – small left party LeI – accuse Renzi of provoking a split to expand his own role in the government.
The withdrawal of support from IV will cost the Conte administration its majority in the Senate.
“We are ready to debate everything,” Renzi said on Wednesday. “If there is an institutional government, we are ready to support it. If there is a government with the same coalition, we are ready to support it. If we have to go into opposition, we are ready to do it.”
Italian media say that Conte has no intention of negotiating with Renzi and will instead reach out to centrists in Parliament in search of support to sustain the government.
Conte may decide to tender his resignation, in which case, Mattarella is likely to ask him to attempt to form a new government, if that effort fails, the president will have to call a general election.
Polls indicate that right-wing parties, above all Matteo Savini’s League, would pick up the most seats.