Berlusconi renews demands as Italy’s government takes shape

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ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s next cabinet is gradually taking shape as rightist leader Giorgia Meloni, set to be appointed prime minister, negotiates key government jobs with coalition allies.

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party led a right-wing alliance including Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s League to victory in last month’s election, promising political stability in the country after years of short-lived governments.

Disputes between Meloni and Berlusconi over cabinet post appeared to have eased following a meeting on Monday, but Berlusconi on Tuesday reiterated a demand his party should get the justice ministry, potentially reviving tensions.

Senior coalition figures say they hope the new government can be sworn in as early as next week.

Forza Italia is expected to take the foreign ministry with Antonio Tajani, a career politician and close Berlusconi aide who briefly served as president of the European Parliament, a source said.

League chief Salvini is expected to be infrastructure minister, sources said, while the interior minister’s job he had originally sought could go to a technocrat close to him.

Berlusconi said on Tuesday both Tajani and Salvini will be deputy prime ministers and announced that Elisabetta Casellati, a former head of the Senate and a prominent Forza Italia politician, will be justice minister.

BERLUSCONI ON TRIAL

His claim on the justice ministry is contentious. He is currently on trial on charges of bribing witnesses in a previous case, in which he was acquitted in 2014 of paying for sex with an underage prostitute. He denies all wrongdoing.

There was no immediate comment from Meloni who, according to Berlusconi, would prefer to see the job go to former prosecutor Carlo Nordio, a Brothers of Italy lawmaker.

Giancarlo Giorgetti, the League party’s industry minister in Mario Draghi’s outgoing government, looked well placed to become economy minister. He is considered one of the League’s most moderate and pro-European figures.

Giorgetti will have to balance the financial stability of the euro zone’s third largest economy, whose public debt is worth around 145% of national output, with the coalition’s tax-cutting promises.

Italy will also need to tackle record-high inflation and surging energy costs which are hurting firms and families. Coalition sources said energy-related matters are likely to remain in the hands of the ecological transition ministry.

The frontrunner to succeed technocrat Roberto Cingolani in the job is Gilberto Pichetto Fratin, a coalition source said. Pichetto Fratin is a long-time Forza Italia politician who served as deputy industry minister in the outgoing administration.

The defence ministry is another key position with the ongoing war in Ukraine. Brothers of Italy’s Adolfo Urso, previously head of the parliamentary committee on security, is the frontrunner for the position, one source said.

Reporting by Angelo Amante and Giuseppe Fonte, Editing by Keith Weir and Ed Osmond

Leader of ‘Forza Italia’ Silvio Berlusconi speaks to journalists leaving the parliamentary groups at the Chamber of Deputies with Member of Italian Chamber of Deputies, Marta Fascina (R), Rome, Italy, 18 October 2022. EPA-EFE/MAURIZIO BRAMBATTI

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