Conte resigns as Italian premier and points a finger at Salvini

-A +A

MILAN/ROME (Aug 20): Giuseppe Conte has had enough of Matteo Salvini.

Just over a year after agreeing to front Italy’s oddball coalition, the former academic will hand his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella Tuesday night, leaving his brief political career up in the air.

Conte has declared the coalition featuring Salvini’s anti-immigration party, the League, is dead. But he could still return at the head of another majority if Mattarella judges it could offer some stability to the country. The president could begin consultations on a possible alternative government as soon as Wednesday.

Salvini, 46, pulled his support from the governing alliance with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement this month, seeking to cash in on strong poll ratings. He upended the political establishment with a mid-summer power grab, while parliament was in recess.

Bond investors welcomed the fact that an alternative coalition is still on the table and the chance of snap elections in the fall diminished somewhat. But any anti-Salvini alliance is likely to be a fragile administration that only delays the moment when Italy’s mountain of public debt — a chronic concern for both European officials and international investors — comes under the control of a right-wing ideologue set on confrontation with Brussels.

Yields on 10-year Italian bonds touched 1.31%, the lowest level since 2016, while the spread over German bonds — a key gauge of risk in the nation — dropped to 200 basis points for the first time in nearly two weeks.

If Conte’s set piece in the Senate earlier in the day does prove to be his final scene as premier, he left no one in any doubt as to who he blames for his demise.

Conte said that Salvini’s demand for a snap election was self-interested and irresponsible. With Salvini sat alongside him on the government benches, he took his nemesis to task for his non-stop campaigning, saying it isn’t in Italy’s interest to hold elections every year. The premier also accused his deputy of not properly responding to allegations in the so-called Russiagate case and said he had overstepped his role as minister.

The current government’s life “terminates here,” Conte said. The League leader “assumed a big responsibility” in precipitating the crisis, Conte said.

While the premier’s remarks were interrupted several times by shouts from the parliamentary benches, Salvini remained impassive, occasionally shaking his head. But the combative deputy premier didn’t pull any punches when his turn came to speak.

The unruly coalition, which lasted just over a year, wasn’t brought down by him but by the fictitious “Signore No” that Salvini likes to invoke to demonstrate inactivity and inertia among his political enemies.

“I’d do it all over again if I had another chance,” Salvini told senators.

Already gearing up for a potential election, Salvini claimed the League is ready with a 50 billion-euro (US$55 billion) budget plan that will allow for tax cuts and more spending, and ridiculed Five Star for considering an alliance with the establishment PD they’ve spent so years attacking.

“I’m not afraid of a PD-Five Star alliance,” he said.