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Why Italy’s government is on the verge of collapse

Political crisis triggered as ex-PM withdraws party from governing coalition

Italy’s government has been plunged into turmoil after former prime minister Matteo Renzi withdrew his Italia Viva party from the ruling coalition.

Renzi dealt the blow after rejecting current PM Giuseppe Conte’s plans for how to spend €209bn (£186bn) of EU recovery funds, part of an EU aid package for the Covid-19 crisis.

The resignations of the tiny Italia Viva party’s two ministers, Teresa Bellanova and Elena Bonetti, leaves Conte lacking a much-needed majority in the Italian Senate. A snap election is now “a possibility”, the BBC reports, although “Renzi has very low ratings in polls”.

The ex-PM appears to have an even lower rating of his former boss, however.

Renzi has presented “a list of grievances, criticising how Conte had handled the [Covid] pandemic and accusing him of hoarding power”, reports Al Jazeera. But the former leader “has left open the door to returning so long as a new policy deal could be worked out”, the news site adds.

The crisis comes as Italy faces its worst economic crisis since the Second World War while struggling to contain coronavirus outbreaks that have claimed the lives of more than 80,000 Italians, according to latest figures - the second-highest death toll in Europe after the UK. 

Renzi had argued that the EU bailout money “risked being squandered on handouts rather than wisely invested” in innovative business projects, The Guardian reports. “His suggestions were taken onboard and the recovery plan was changed and approved by the cabinet late on Tuesday night.”  

But while he described the revised plan as a “step forward”, Renzi yesterday reiterated his other key demand - that the bailout also be used to bolster the country’s health service. “The Five Star Movement (M5S), the largest ruling party, has always resisted this over fears it would leave Italy beholden to strict EU austerity rules,” says the newspaper.  

Announcing the resignations of his ministers, Renzi said: “It’s much more difficult to leave a government post than to cling to the status quo. We are experiencing a great political crisis, we are discussing the dangers associated with the pandemic.

“Faced with this crisis, the sense of responsibility is to solve problems, not hide them.”

Conte must now rise to the challenge of either tempting Renzi back into the coalition or securing support from elsewhere in the Italian parliament, in order to avoid an election two years before his term was due to end.

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