Salvini Has an Ultimatum of His Own for Italy’s Government

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(Bloomberg) -- Italian Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini, responding to the prime minister’s threat to resign, said he’s ready to keep the fractious populist coalition alive but he set an ultimatum of his own with a 15-day deadline for action on his priorities.

The rightist League leader, who emerged victorious in last month’s European parliamentary election, told RTL 102.5 radio that he has “no intention of making the government collapse” and wants the coalition with the Five Star Movement to go forward “if it takes action.”

But Salvini stressed that “renegotiating EU rules is in the interest of all states.” The European Commission, which has threatened sanctions against Italy if it doesn’t reign in public debt, is scheduled to publish its latest report on the country’s finances Wednesday.

Salvini Has an Ultimatum of His Own for Italy’s Government

The yield spread between Italy’s 10-year government bonds and those of Germany is testing 290 basis points, the level which marks the start of populist rule in the country a year ago.

Salvini paid lip service to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s appeal, sticking to a schedule of six campaign events Tuesday, and signaling that he wants to avoid taking the blame in the eyes of voters for any government collapse.

“If I were to realize that in 15 days time we’re back here saying the same things, with the same delays and the same postponements, then it would be a problem,” Salvini said, hinting at a possible government crisis which could trigger early elections.

Conte on Monday threatened to resign if the squabbling partners in his populist coalition don’t stop posturing, demanding they move quickly to push through policies to help the country.

Pressured Mediator

Conte, a Florence law professor who has acted as a highly pressured mediator in the year-old government, called on Salvini and fellow-Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement to halt what he called their permanent election campaign.

“I ask both political forces, and in particular their leaders, to make a clear choice, and to tell us if they intend to work from now on in the spirit” of the coalition agreement, Conte said Monday at a news conference at his Rome office.

Salvini Has an Ultimatum of His Own for Italy’s Government

Conte said he’s ready to continue in the premier’s job “with maximum determination.” But he added that if his appeal goes unheeded, “I won’t agree to languish just to prolong my presence here. Very simply, I will hand in my resignation.”

The prime minister “welcomes” the news that Salvini and Di Maio spoke following his news conference. “The return to dialogue is a good premise,” the premier’s office said in a statement Tuesday.

The European Commission is expected to recommend the start of a disciplinary process over Italy’s failure to rein in its debt on Wednesday. Conte said in his comments Monday that the EU’s rules will remain valid and in force “until we manage to change them.”

Though both sides of the coalition have regularly lit into the EU, the government has been roiled by tensions between Salvini and Di Maio, which escalated ahead of last month’s European vote.

Di Maio’s Five Star has “always supported this government,” the deputy premier said in a post on Facebook. “We want to get to work right away, and we think that facts are the best response,” Di Maio said, calling for a government summit as soon as possible.

Acknowledging that “I cannot be certain how long the government will last,’’ Conte set down markers including a reminder that European Union budget rules “remain in force until we manage to change them.”

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