ROME (Reuters) – Italian President Sergio Mattarella has called on ruling parties to approve a European Union recovery plan before dealing with a looming political crisis, Italian newspapers reported on Monday.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte faces a showdown with his coalition partner and former premier Matteo Renzi this week that could bring down his government even as it struggles to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Renzi’s small Italia Viva party, whose lawmakers underpin Conte’s parliamentary majority, has called for radical changes to the government’s plans aimed at relaunching the economy.
Matters could come to a head at a cabinet meeting provisionally slated for Wednesday, when Conte is expected to ask ministers to support his recovery plan. If Italia Viva’s two ministers refuse, the prime minister would come under pressure to resign swiftly and open a full-blown political crisis.
While the president does not have the power to keep Italia Viva from quitting the coalition, he can exercise moral suasion and his views on political matters are often fed to the local media. It was not immediately possible to get comment from the president’s office.
If the government falls, the coalition parties could seek to draw up a new pact and agree on a revised team of ministers, with or without Conte at its helm. Alternatively, the head of state could try to put together a government of national unity to confront the health and economic crisis.
If all else fails, national elections would have to be held some two years ahead of time, but such an outcome would appear highly unlikely given the coronavirus emergency in Italy, which has so far registered 78,755 COVID-19 deaths, the second highest toll in Europe and the sixth highest in the world.
In a rare interview with Italian television, Pope Francis at the weekend called for political responsibility in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Conflicts are necessary, but right now they have to take a back seat. We need to emphasize the unity of the country, the church and society. Those who say that ‘in this way the elections can be lost’ I say that this is not the time,” the pontiff told private broadcaster Mediaset.
(Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Tom Hogue, Robert Birsel, Crispian Balmer)