In the midst of a global pandemic that has made Italy one of the worst COVID-affected nations in Europe and has plunged the country into the worst recession since World War II, its shaky ruling coalition government is on the verge of collapse after former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi pulled his support. His small party, Italia Viva, had backed the Five Star Movement and the Democratic Party, two pro-EU parties, which have been in power since 2019, but differences over how to spend upcoming European recovery funds led Renzi to remove his support and cause the resignation of two Italia Viva ministers.
Renzi opposes a plan by the country’s centrist prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, to have a council of technocrats managing the funds. Renzi wants Conte to apply for a loan from the Eurozone’s bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism to bolster Italy’s struggling health service.
The unwieldy three-party alliance, which was always on shaky ground with each other, played a key role in keeping Eurosceptic politicians away from forming a government during a previous political crisis in the summer of 2019.
Adding to the uncertainty is that public support for Lega, the anti-establishment party led by former Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, remains strong due to its anti-Brussels and anti-illegal immigration policies. This could lead to the possibility of a Salvini-led government.
New Europe spoke in an exclusive interview with Senator Laura Garavini from the Italia Viva political group about the reasons behind Renzi’s reasons to withdraw his support to the Conte government.
NEW EUROPE (NE): Starting from the most important issue, what are the main reasons of your withdrawal from the government?
LAURA GARAVINI (LG): We’ve raised important political issues for several months without getting any answer. One of the most important points is the possibility to use the EU’s Stability Mechanism which provides financial resources to support our health system. On this key issue, the Italian government has, until now, given only a negative opinion on using these financial measures. The other key topic is the program on how to use the resources of the Recovery Fund. We think that it should be important to shift to other projects the €18 billion that re foreseen in health in the recovery fund, while at the same time to activate, for healthcare projects, the resources of the Stability Mechanism, which are specifically dedicated for that purpose. The reasons why we withdrew our support are only because of the program issues and not because of some self-serving games by Matteo Renzi. At this very moment, we want all political decisions to be taken into account for the future of our country. Firstly, we need to invest and stop giving subsidies and bonuses. If we want to help our country, we need to stop following ideological positions like the one by Five Star when it comes to the use of the Stability Mechanism. I think that if we could get some concrete answers on certain issues, there could be a possibility to go on with this coalition. Unfortunately, we see that the answer from the other parties in the coalition is to try to replace us with senators from other groups. The result will be a weak government approving all the mistakes done so far and the bad management in the future of the financial resources coming from the EU. This negative scenario is also very far from what President (Sergio) Mattarella suggested. In fact, he said not to form a new coalition with single isolated members of parliament. He suggested a more structured political project. We are very concerned about the future of our country and not by what our party could gain out of this situation.
NE: Are there some other issues?
LG: On the recovery plan, we asked to allocate more money for the young generations. After our request, the government added only €2 billion, which is not enough. What is missing is a decision on how the spending program will be implemented. We don’t know how the spending of these recovery fund projects will be managed and we are very concerned. Another problem is that the plan doesn’t have a vision for the future and it should not be like that because the next EU generation is designed to support the young generations. During these months, we tried to responsibly keep our concerns and critiques within government circles and without going to the press.
NE: I guess you also didn’t like the, we could call it “dictatorial methods”, carried out by Conte?
LG: Right, we can’t tolerate anymore the lack of democratic methods and rules. We experienced meetings that were organized with very short notice and in some cases in the middle of the night. Documents were provided only five minutes before the meetings. Then we have the regular usage of the prime minister’s decree. I understand the emergency situation, but this crisis can’t justify a complete halt of democratic rules. Even the recovery fund plan was not even shared with the ministers and Economy Minister (Roberto) Gualtieri didn’t even read it. Last but not least, there was a complete lack of respect for the parliament regarding the budget law. In the Senate, we didn’t even have time to focus on the amendments.
NE: The method is also wrong?
LG: I think there is an abuse of the term “emergency” together with the wrong use of “welfarism” when it comes to financial aid, which is too little to support our entrepreneurs. Five-Star, and the other members of the coalition, have a central state-oriented approach based on welfarism. OK, now we have the financial resources coming from Europe, but in the future, it will not continue this way forever with the heavy debt that we already have. The wrong strategy is to use psychological terrorism in order to close everything. This cannot be the only way to fight this pandemic. We are killing all our SME’s in tourism and hospitality. How will we be able to restart again? We are completely dissatisfied with the plan for lockdowns and closures and the implementation of putting the country into red, orange and yellow zones.
NE: Some opinion writers and journalists said you didn’t fight enough to support these ideas?
LG: Trust me, we opposed them and I could show you all the internal chat messages we sent to each other in the group. Our ministers were fighting very hard for that, even if we didn’t want to show it to the media. The small results that we got have allowed some openings of some businesses during the lockdowns, but for schools and subsidies, our ministers fought a lot.
NE: Do you think that in your group there could be some “traitors” who will support Conte again?
LG: Our group is very compact and I can exclude the possibility that some of our senators could support Conte, I don’t know about other political parties, and also I don’t know if Conte will get enough senators next week, but in any case, this is clearly a political gamble.