Five Star Rebels Risk Jeopardizing Italy’s Government on EU Help

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A rebellion within Italy’s biggest coalition force risks undermining the government of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, in a clash over an overhaul of the European Stability Mechanism.

Sixty-eight members of the Five Star Movement from both houses of parliament signed a letter sent to party leaders rejecting a reform ahead of a Dec. 9 vote on the issue, though more than 20 lawmakers have since withdrawn their signatures. Conte’s administration has a razor-thin majority in the Senate.

Populists inside and outside the coalition have portrayed credit lines tied to the ESM, and linked to health spending, as a sell-out to Brussels. The Five Star leadership has pointed out that next week’s vote ahead of an EU summit is on reforming the mechanism, not accepting the credit lines.

A Senate defeat would threaten the stability of the government, with the center-left Democratic Party -- or PD -- in favor of tapping the ESM. Silvio Berlusconi of the center-right Forza Italia party has refused to support the government on the issue.

But Conte could still win the vote, with the possible support of senators from both Five Star and Berlusconi’s divided group, as well as from small and independent backers. Many lawmakers are wary of rocking the boat during the coronavirus pandemic, and would fail to get re-elected under a new system that has reduced the number of lawmakers in parliament.

Ex-premier Romano Prodi told newspaper La Repubblica that Italy cannot allow the government to be engulfed in a crisis at a time when it should be preparing for the European Union’s recovery fund, with the country set to be its biggest beneficiary.

“Is there another government available to interact in an efficient way with Europe?” Prodi asked. “A political crisis at this time is unimaginable.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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