Italy’s Conte Appeals to Senate for Government’s Survival

Italy’s Conte Appeals to Senate for Government’s Survival

January 23, 2021

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte waged a charm offensive Tuesday in the Italian Senate ahead of a vote that will decide whether his coalition can survive.

Fresh from winning a majority in the lower house Monday night, Conte needs the support of the Senate after junior ally and ex-premier Matteo Renzi abandoned his coalition in a clash over European Union recovery funds. The result of the Senate confidence vote is due at about 8:30 p.m. local time.

In his speech Conte, who’s heading his second government, sought to win over pro-European centrists, unaffiliated lawmakers and senators from Renzi’s Italy Alive party.

Even if the premier is only able to convince a minority of Senate lawmakers, he plans to soldier on and keep trying to win recruits for a new government program, officials said. While a stinging defeat would force him to offer his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella, snap elections appear unlikely no matter what the outcome on Tuesday.

“We ask all political and parliamentary forces which have at heart the destiny of Italy to help us start again as quickly as possible,” Conte said. “Help us to heal the wound which the crisis has created in the pact of trust with citizens.”

Italy, the original European epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, risks being governed by a fragile executive just as it’s battling a worsening pandemic and a recession. The country has also taken over the presidency of the Group of 20. Political maneuvering will likely dominate the next few weeks as Conte, who once led a euroskeptic cabinet, seeks to recruit backers for what he pledged is a reformist, pro-European agenda.

Italian bonds edged higher Tuesday, narrowing the 10-year yield premium over Germany to 114 basis points. Citigroup Inc. said it could shrink to 110 basis points following the Senate vote, noting that a snap election is unlikely.

In the lower house, Conte won support from 321 of the 629 lawmakers. Italy Alive’s senators have pledged to abstain in the Tuesday confidence measure rather than cast votes against the government. That would lower the threshold for Conte to get the simple majority he needs to avoid being forced to resign.

Conte believes he can win Tuesday’s vote with at least 155 senators in the 321-seat Senate and he’s touting incentives including two ministerial jobs and one post as undersecretary left vacant by Renzi’s party, newspaper la Repubblica reported Tuesday. Coalition forces would consider any score above 155 as a victory, according to daily Corriere della Sera.

Why snap elections are unlikely, whatever the confidence vote outcome:
  • Opinion polls show the opposition center-right in the lead, with parties in the current coalition, particularly senior member the Five Star Movement, likely to lose heavily.
  • The next national vote will elect a smaller parliament, after a downsizing cut the number of senators to 200 from 315 and deputies to 400 from 630. Many lawmakers will lose their seats.
  • The parliament will choose Italy’s next president in early 2022. Many lawmakers will likely want to stay on, to have a say in that choice.
  • EU recovery funds will give lawmakers an unprecedented opportunity to shape investment plans for the next decade.

While there had been speculation in Rome that he might submit his resignation if he doesn’t secure 161 votes on Tuesday, Conte intends to dig in his heels and push ahead with his legislative agenda for some two weeks or more while he tries to secure further support, the people familiar said, asking not to be named discussing private conversations.

— With assistance by Zoe Schneeweiss, and John Ainger

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