ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s main opposition party, the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), has opened the door to talks with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement on forming a government following the collapse of the previous coalition.
President Sergio Mattarella is pushing them to make a deal quickly or else he will dissolve parliament and call a snap election.
However, many obstacles lie in the path of an agreement between two parties that have always been bitter foes. Following are some of the issues that could hinder the negotiations:
On Thursday, it was still unclear who could lead such a government. PD leader Nicola Zingaretti has said he would not accept the outgoing Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, a technocrat close to 5-Star who according to polls enjoys wide popularity.
Zingaretti and 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio are considered certain to veto each other. It remains to be seen if the two parties will agree on another figure, as 5-Star and the League did at the time of Conte’s appointment.
The outgoing coalition comprising the far-right League and 5-Star, adopted an uncompromising approach to immigration, shutting ports to private rescue ships, threatening huge fines on transgressors and pulling back navy and coastguard vessels far from the Libyan coastline where migrants often need saving.
These measures were championed by League leader Matteo Salvini, but 5-Star backed him and polls suggest their voters backed the legislation. The PD denounced the crackdown and has demanded a change of tack. It is not clear how much 5-Star will be willing to backtrack on the work of the past 14 months.
The question of justice reform has poisoned Italian politics for years. 5-Star built up its support on a pledge of zero tolerance for corruption and a promise of wide-ranging judicial reform. The issue caused huge friction with the League and is likely to generate just as much anguish with PD.
The 5-Star has just presented a reform to loosen the statute of limitations which imposes time restrictions on legal proceedings. Critics say the limits make it impossible to reach verdicts in many cases, especially white-collar crime. The PD has rejected the proposed overhaul, saying that without time restrictions, trials could drag on indefinitely.
5-Star wants to revoke the lucrative motorway concession of infrastructure group Atlantia, blaming the firm for the collapse of one of its bridges last year that killed 43 people.
PD leader Nicola Zingaretti has warned that the uncertainty over the Atlantia contract poses risks to jobs and the country’s credibility.
5-Star has repeatedly accused the previous PD government of being to blame for the collapse of several banks in which thousands of Italians lost their savings. Together with the League, it began setting up a parliamentary commission into the scandals that is due to start work next month. The PD has objected to the move and it is hard to see how they can reconcile their vastly different positions on this question if they form a coalition.
During his meeting with President Sergio Mattarella on Thursday, Zingaretti said he was not willing to back a reform of parliament set up by the previous government, that would cut the number of lawmakers from 945 to 600.
The reform was due to be definitively approved in the lower house in September, but has been put on ice because of the government crisis.
The 5-Star Movement is the main supporter of the reduction plan and will be very reluctant to let it go, even though the PD says it is willing to cut the number of parliamentarians but only as part of a broader reform of the country’s institutions.
The two parties have been at loggerheads since 5-Star was launched in 2009 and there is bad blood between many of their parliamentarians. Perhaps 5-Star’s biggest critic is former PD Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who is now a senator and can still count on the loyalty of many PD lawmakers because he selected them as candidates before the last election in 2018.
He has unexpectedly given his blessing to a 5-Star tie-up, but the anti-system party views Renzi and his inner circle as toxic and would veto any of them joining a new cabinet.
Keeping them out of government is one thing, but expecting them to stay loyal to an alliance with 5-Star for any length of time is hard to envisage.
Complicating matters is the fact that the new PD leader, Zingaretti, does not have many of his own men and women in parliament. He fears Renzi might swiftly withdraw his support for a new coalition and form his own political force. In this context, it may make more sense for Zingaretti to push for elections now where he would have the final say over PD candidates, enabling him to flush out Renzi’s loyalists.
Writing by Angelo Amante; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Alison Williams