Italy’s PD stands by economy minister; president seeks continuity – sources

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ROME, Feb 1 (Reuters) – Italy’s co-ruling Democratic Party (PD) will not let Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri be shunted aside in any cabinet reshuffle that might arise from the government crisis, political sources said on Monday.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was forced to resign last week when a junior partner, Italia Viva, quit the 17-month-old coalition in a row over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic meltdown.

The former government allies are holding talks to try to overcome their differences and revive their alliance.

Political sources say Italia Viva, headed by former premier Matteo Renzi, wants to see a major cabinet shake-up, including the removal of Gualtieri, a leading PD figure, to signal a clear break with the past.

However, PD sources, as well as political sources outside the party, said they would not let Gualtieri be sacrificed.

“Renzi kicks up four or five dust storms, but then settles back on more achievable goals,” a PD minister told Reuters, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Separately a source who had talked with President Sergio Mattarella — the man tasked with finding a solution to the turmoil — said the head of state wanted “continuity” in the main ministries, including the economy, health and defence portfolios.

The source added that continuity could be provided by another person, but only if they were heavyweight figures.

Renzi has not publicly criticised Gualtieri and has repeatedly refused to talk openly about any eventual reshuffle, saying it was important to focus instead on policies, such as how best to spend more than 200 billion euros ($243 billion) from a European Union fund to help Italy’s battered economy.

In a newsletter to supporters on Monday, he sounded upbeat about the prospect of finding a deal.

“At the end of this week we will have, I hope, a new government. It will have to be up to the challenges of this time. And it must be a government of capable and competent people. This is the only way to save Italy,” he wrote.

The speaker of the lower house of parliament, Roberto Fico, is leading mediation efforts between the coalition parties. He is due to report back to Mattarella on his progress on Tuesday.

Renzi said last week that if a political accord could not be found, he would support the creation of a government of technocrats that would need cross-party support in parliament.

An Italia Viva source told Reuters on Sunday that the party would like to former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi become prime minister.

(Additional reporting by Angelo Amante; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Gavin Jones and Alison Williams)

Photo – Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (L) with Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri (R) speak at the Senate during a meeting of the house ahead of the upcoming European Council meeting, in Rome, Italy, 09 December 2020. EU leaders will meet in Brussels, Belgium on 11 and 11 December to discuss further coordination on COVID-19, climate change, security and external relations. On 11 December the leaders will also meet for the Euro Summit. EPA-EFE/FABIO FRUSTACI

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