Italian populists and far right continue government talks

Leader of the Five Star movement has pledged to ‘defend Italy’ in the European Union, reduce the number of immigrants and ‘increase expulsions’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 May, 2018, 7:35pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 May, 2018, 9:26pm

Italian populist leaders Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini pushed their head-to-head bargaining for a new government into the weekend, leaving the choice of premier unresolved as a court lifted a ban on Silvio Berlusconi running for public office.

Di Maio of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and Salvini of the anti-immigrant League will hold another meeting on Saturday, this time in Milan, after progress at their previous encounter at the Rome parliament on Friday. Members of both parties will also meet on Saturday to draw up a policy agenda.

“We’re making considerable steps forward with the government programme,” Di Maio told reporters in Rome after his talks with Salvini. The two parties were finding “many points of agreement” on a citizen’s income for the poor, a flat tax, pension reform, “the issue of countering the business of immigration” and regulating conflicts of interest, Di Maio said.

“Let’s hope we reach a deal as soon as possible, because otherwise we hold new elections,” he added. “We didn’t talk about the name of the premier.”

Five Star, founded as a web-based organisation in 2009, will ask its supporters for their opinion on a government contract, he said.

Ex-premier Berlusconi, 81, Salvini’s junior partner in a centre-right alliance, won his appeal of a ban from seeking office that was made at a Milan court. Berlusconi, who was convicted of tax-fraud in 2013, is now free to run for the lower house of Parliament or the Senate, newspaper Corriere della Sera reported on Saturday, citing a judicial ruling made on Friday. Berlusconi said on May 9 that he would not veto a Five Star-League government.

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the small far right Brothers of Italy party, said Di Maio asked her at a meeting on Friday to support him or another Five Star premier in exchange for allowing her group to join the government, but she refused. Five Star officials denied the account, newswire Ansa reported.

Di Maio and Salvini have promised President Sergio Mattarella, whose task it is to name a prime minister, to tell him the result of their talks on Sunday. If they agree on a premier, ministers and a programme, Mattarella could ask their choice of leader to try to form a government on Monday or Tuesday.

A populist government could be sworn in a few days later, before facing a vote of confidence in both houses of parliament. Salvini’s centre-right alliance led Five Star in March 4 elections, which resulted in a hung parliament.

The flat tax that the League wants to help businesses and individuals, the citizen’s income advocated by Five Star, and a common pledge for pension reform have fuelled investors’ concerns that their agenda could weigh on the euro zone’s third-biggest economy, already burdened by a massive debt pile.

Salvini wrote on Facebook that he was working to cancel a pension law that raised the retirement age, to cut taxes and bureaucracy, as well as reduce the number of immigrants who reach Italy’s coast from North Africa “and increase expulsions”. He said he also wanted to “defend Italy” in the European Union.

Just who would lead a populist government has yet to be decided.