Italy’s populists agree on premier amid French euro warning

Anti-immigration League and the Five Star Movement are set to propose a cabinet to president Sergio Mattarella

People gather at the stand of far-right party "Lega" (League) to approve a proposal of common governmental program with the Five Star Movement, in center Milan, on May 20, 2018. The anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and far-right League party should meet Italy's President Sergio Mattarella tomorrow in Rome and reveal the name of their Prime Minister.  / AFP / MIGUEL MEDINA

Italy’s two populist parties agreed on a prime minister, sealing a government deal amid a warning by France to avoid putting the euro area’s stability at risk.

With the Anti-immigration League and the Five Star Movement set to propose a cabinet to president Sergio Mattarella as early as Monday, Florence University law professor Giuseppe Conte emerged as a possible premier. League head Matteo Salvini and Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio held off making names public before meeting the head of state.

“We closed the deal this morning on the candidate for premier and ministers, so we are ready to get started,” Mr Salvini said, in a video posted on his party’s Facebook site after he and Mr Di Maio met on Sunday.

Eleven weeks after a general election, the endgame followed a week of turmoil in Italian bonds and stocks triggered by reports about the coalition’s spending plans and rejection of European Union budget rules. The 10-year yield spread over German bonds ended Friday at 165 basis points, the most since October, prompting a word of caution from Paris.

“If the new government took the risk of not respecting its commitments on debt, the deficit and the clean-up of banks, the financial stability of the entire euro zone will be threatened,” French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said on Sunday in an interview with Europe 1 radio.

Mr Salvini fired back on Twitter, suggesting the warning was “unacceptable” interference. “Italians first!” he said.

Mr Di Maio said the cabinet line-up, if approved by the president, would include a joint minister of economic development and labour to be headed by Five Star. The post could go to Mr Di Maio himself, while Mr Salvini is to be proposed as interior minister and Mr Conte is the nominee for prime minister, Corriere della Sera newspaper said.

The League gave Italians a say on the draft coalition platform this weekend at party-organised events across the nation, although it boiled down the 58-page agenda to just one page and 10 key areas, omitting the anti-establishment Five Star’s top policy plank: a minimum income for poorer citizens.

Five Star supporters backed the coalition pact by a 94 per cent majority on Friday in an online ballot organised by the party.

While Five Star emerged as the biggest single party in the general election on March 4, the League was part of a centre-right alliance that won the most seats overall. Both leaders claimed the right to head the next government – a dispute that has dogged their efforts to form a coalition ever since.

The League’s description of the programme includes scrapping a pension reform that raised the retirement age, blocking immigrants arriving on Italy’s coasts and a flat tax for families and companies. There is no mention of a “citizen’s income” for the poor at 780 euros (Dh3,367) a month, a flagship Five Star promise that the League denounced as a handout during the election campaign.