Italy's Populists in Marathon Talks as President Takes Stand

(Bloomberg) -- Italy’s populist leaders Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini forged ahead with a government agenda in marathon talks, while President Sergio Mattarella indicated that he doesn’t intend to rubber stamp whatever they decide.

Di Maio of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, and Salvini, who heads the anti-immigrant League and a broader center-right alliance, are close to finalizing a political program after a second day of discussions in Milan Sunday, according to a League official who declined to be identified speaking about confidential talks. The two parties are likely to reach a deal on the program on Sunday, the official added.

Italy's Populists in Marathon Talks as President Takes Stand

The two leaders are expected to meet the head of state on Monday, the official said. Di Maio and Salvini are working on the basis that neither of them will become premier, but they have yet to identify a candidate. Five Star’s choice may be economist Guido Tabellini, 62, a former rector of Milan’s Bocconi University, newspaper La Repubblica said earlier.

Mattarella, 76, a former minister and constitutional court judge, signaled that he won’t be a pushover in comments Saturday at a tribute to Luigi Einaudi, who served as president from 1948 to 1955. He recalled “the illuminating case” when Einaudi refused to appoint the premier candidate offered by the then-dominant Christian Democrats. “The head of state is not a notary,” Mattarella said, according to Corriere della Sera.

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Many investors are looking to Mattarella to be a stabilizing influence on a populist administration amid concern about funding spending pledges and demands to review European Union treaties. Mattarella’s office has said the head of state would work to ensure the government team is qualified for its task, doesn’t jeopardize state finances, and respects Italy’s international commitments.

Italy's Populists in Marathon Talks as President Takes Stand

Measures agreed in a draft government program so far include a citizen’s income for the poor, a flat tax, speeding up the expulsion of illegal immigrants, renegotiating EU accords, complying with EU limits on public spending, and opposition to sanctions against Russia, according to newspapers Repubblica and La Stampa on Sunday.

Salvini, whose center-right bloc led Five Star in inconclusive March 4 elections, has been negotiating for more than two months with Di Maio to form a government together. They have told Mattarella, whose task it is to name a premier and cabinet ministers, that they will report back to him on their talks on Sunday.

Salvini and Di Maio won a concession from ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, Salvini’s junior ally, on May 9 that he would not veto a Five Star-League government.

A Milan court’s decision to lift a ban on Berlusconi, who heads the center-right Forza Italia party, running for public office -- after a 2013 tax-fraud conviction -- has fueled speculation that he might seek re-election.

Mariastella Gelmini, the head of Forza Italia lawmakers in the lower house, told Corriere that Berlusconi will decide whether to run, possibly in next year’s European Parliament elections.

“We’ll be in the opposition to be sentries for the citizens, for those who don’t have a job, for companies in difficulty and for families,” she said.

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