Posted on August 20, 2019

Italian Prime Minister to Resign, Declaring End of Coalition

Marcus Walker, Wall Street Journal, August 20, 2019

Italy’s government collapsed, plunging the economically fragile country into deeper political turmoil, and triggering a struggle between the popular far-right politician Matteo Salvini and his rivals who want to keep him out of power.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced his resignation in a speech to the Senate on Tuesday, blaming Mr. Salvini, the interior minister, for causing a political crisis as Italy looks for a way to repair its strained finances.

Mr. Salvini, a rising political force from Europe’s insurgent far-right, began pressing for snap elections on Aug. 8, in a bid to capitalize on opinion polls that show his nativist League has become Italy’s most popular party, with around 36% support. The League has served as the junior coalition partner of the populist 5 Star Movement since summer 2018.

Leaders of 5 Star are exploring the only plausible alternative to snap elections the League would likely win: a new coalition government with their longstanding foes, the mainstream center-left Democratic Party. Talks in coming days could show whether such a coalition is possible or early elections are needed.


Italy’s power struggle is a symptom of Europe’s continuing political upheaval after a decade of crises including the economic depression in the periphery of the eurozone and the pressures of rising immigration from poor and war-torn parts of Africa and the Middle East.


The political upheaval has gone further in Italy than in most other EU countries. In March 2018 elections, Italy’s mainstream parties suffered a heavy defeat. In a country tired of economic stagnation and ineffectual political incumbents, one in three Italians backed 5 Star, while the League won 17% of the vote. Since then, however, 5 Star has struggled in government and its support has halved, while Mr. Salvini’s tough stance on immigration has helped double support for the League.

If Italy holds early elections, Mr. Salvini could become the first leader of a major EU nation who comes from a self-described populist party to the right of Europe’s mainstream conservatives. Mr. Salvini, an avowed admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has challenged the EU’s rules on fiscal discipline, accusing Germany and France of hypocritically breaking the rules while imposing austerity on Italy. {snip}


Opinion polls suggest the League could currently win an outright majority in Parliament together with two smaller allies: the far-right Brothers of Italy and the conservative Forza Italia of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Mr. Salvini’s push to bring down the government and trigger snap elections has caused some disquiet in the League, where some other senior officials have privately criticized their leader’s timing.


Mr. Salvini repeated on Tuesday that he wants to slash income taxes and, if necessary, defy EU authorities. “I am not afraid. The League is not afraid,” he told the Senate, describing his party as “free people, who answer only to the Italian people, not to Merkel or Macron.”

As opposition senators jeered, a defiant Mr. Salvini said: “You’ve decided upon the target. Here I am. You’ve decided upon the danger to Italy and Europe. Here I am.”