Italy's Center-Right, Five Star Quarrel as Deadlock Persists

(Bloomberg) -- Italy’s center-right alliance clashed with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement during a second round of talks hosted by the president in the quest for a new government, with the bloc led by Matteo Salvini of the euroskeptic League united in insisting it should indicate a premier.

Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, Salvini’s junior partner in the center-right alliance, introduced him as “our leader” to reporters after Sergio Mattarella, the head of state, received them with Giorgia Meloni of the far-right Brothers of Italy. The three leaders had met Mattarella separately in a first round of talks last week.

Salvini said the center-right was ready to “form a strong and lasting government with a premier indicated by the League.” He said its priorities were tax cuts, jobs for young people, pension reform, fighting poverty and “firm opposition to clandestine immigration.” The center-right led the anti-establishment Five Star Movement in March 4 elections, but both fell short of a majority.

In a thinly-veiled attack on Five Star, which has offered to govern with the League but has rejected any deal with Berlusconi, Salvini denounced “a game of political tactics, of refusals, and of vetoes while Italians suffer and await solutions.”

Berlusconi Issue

Salvini has pledged to govern with Five Star only if his allies agree. Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio is insisting on the premiership, and on the exclusion of Berlusconi, who is banned from holding public office until next year because of a 2013 tax-fraud conviction. For Five Star, Berlusconi embodies the political corruption it campaigns against.

The center-right bloc told Mattarella that Salvini must be premier, Meloni said in an interview with newspaper Corriere della Sera on Friday. Salvini is “the candidate premier whom we indicated to Mattarella, we are united,” she said.

Di Maio, after his meeting with the president, pushed back against Salvini. “I don’t understand why Salvini is obstinately continuing to propose a coalition of the center-right,” Di Maio said. “We see only one solution to break this deadlock, that Silvio Berlusconi takes a step back and allows the start of a government which will change things.”

Five Star has offered to govern with either the League or with the center-left Democratic Party. Maurizio Martina, acting-leader of the PD, insisted it would go into opposition as “a parliamentary minority.” He branded “unacceptable” any idea of delaying the search for a government until regional elections in Molise on April 22 and Friuli-Venezia Giulia on April 29 -- votes that Five Star and the center-right are banking on winning.

Syria Crisis

The possibility of a U.S.-led missile attack on Syria in retaliation for a presumed chemical attack near Damascus overshadowed the quest for a government.

Salvini, who has taken a strongly pro-Russian stand, said he would remain loyal to international commitments but said he was against “any unilateral action.” On Wednesday he tweeted that reports of a chemical attack were fake news and wrote: “Enough wars, thanks!”

Di Maio told RAI television Wednesday that Italy, “precisely because we are allies of the U.S. and of the West,” should counsel peace, adding he hoped allies would not request the use of military bases in Italy to bomb Syria.

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