Italy's populists mobilise in protest as cabinet is drawn up

Disconnect between pro and anti-European forces underscores the widening gulf in Italy’s fractured politics

TOPSHOT - Carlo Cottarelli addresses a press conference at the Qurinale presidential palace on May 28, 2018 in Rome after Italian President gave him mandate to form a government.
 Italy's president appointed pro-austerity economist Carlo Cottarelli, 64, to form a potential technocrat government as the country lurched into fresh political chaos following the collapse of a populist bid for power. - 
 / AFP / Andreas SOLARO
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Italy’s populist leaders, incensed by their failed bid for power, began mobilising for an early election even as premier-designate Carlo Cottarelli puts together a cabinet to present to the head of state.

The disconnect between the pro and anti-European forces underscores the widening gulf in Italy’s fractured politics that is unsettling investors. With a general election expected as early as September, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the anti-immigrant, eurosceptic League are heralding an uncertain new period for the euro area’s third-biggest economy.

Italian government debt plummeted on Tuesday, with the spread between Italian and German 10-year bonds surging about 80 basis points to the highest level in just over five years. A new election could take place on a date between 9 September 9 and October 7, newspaper Corriere della Sera reported on Tuesday.

With markets in meltdown, Mr Cottarelli, a former International Monetary Fund official picked by President Sergio Mattarella to form an interim administration, could meet the head of state on Tuesday afternoon, according to a senior government official who asked not to be identified. Mr Cottarelli, 63, may serve as both premier and finance minister, the official said.


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As Mr Cottarelli laboured in an office allocated to him by the Rome parliament, Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio fired broadsides against the president, setting the tone for a virulent campaign. He called for a demonstration in Rome on, Saturday, a holiday marking the birth of Italy's post-Second World War republic.

“I call on citizens to mobilise, make yourselves heard,” Mr Di Maio said in a Facebook video.

The Five Star leader said he had hung the Italian flag from the windows of Five Star’s parliamentary offices and urged supporters to do the same.

He was echoed by League head Matteo Salvini, who also called for protests in the country’s piazzas over the weekend. Mr Salvini has yet to say whether he will campaign with Five Star or with a centre-right alliance including Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party.

“The condition for an alliance with Forza Italia is to change European rules, I can’t ally myself with people who tell me that Europe is fine as it is,” Mr Salvini told RAI radio on Tuesday.

The League is credited with 27.5 per cent of voting intentions, up from 17.4 per cent in the inconclusive March 4 elections, according to an SWG opinion poll carried out on May 23-28. Five Star was down to 29.5 per cent from 32.7 per cent. Forza Italia was down to 8 per cent from 14 per cent.

With bond yields surging, the euro was also hit. It was down 0.7 per cent as of 10:48 am in Rome. Italian stocks dragged down gauges across Europe on Monday.

epaselect epa06768997 Designated Italian Prime Minister Carlo Cottarelli (L) meets with Senate Speaker Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati (R) in Rome, Italy, 28 May 2018. President Sergio Mattarella gave former spending review chief Carlo Cottarelli a mandate to form an interim technocrat government, the day after Conte gave his mandate back. An effort to form a populist government coalition of 5-Star Movement and League with law professor Giuseppe Conte as designated prime minister collapsed the rpevious day when Mattarella refused to approve the nomination of Euroskeptic economist Paolo Savona as economy minister, citing the risk of financial turbulence.

In an echo of Europe’s debt crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel cited the euro area’s rules when asked about Italy during a conference in Berlin.

“We ought to take a very close look at where we can co-operate with the government, but always remembering that we have principles in the euro area,” she said on Monday.

Mr Cottarelli’s cabinet will require a confidence vote in parliament, where most parties are ready to go for a repeat election instead. Both populist parties rejected Mr Cottarelli even before he was tapped to form a government, and former premier Mr Berlusconi said on Monday that his party will vote against the former IMF official.

Mr Cottarelli said he will plan for a general election “after August” if his government loses the confidence votes in both houses of parliament.

Five Star and the League have denounced Mr Mattarella, 76, for vetoing eurosceptic economist Paolo Savona as finance minister in the now-foiled populist government. The party leaders say Mr Mattarella ceded to pressure from investors and countries such as Germany when he vetoed Mr Savona, denying them power. Mr Di Maio pledged to seek the president’s impeachment.

Andrea Marcucci, the Senate leader for Italy’s Democratic Party, likened the populists’ plans to Benito Mussolini’s 1922 mass demonstration in Rome, which led to the fascist dictator’s ascent to power.

“Di Maio and Salvini have thrown down their mask – they even want to re-enact the March on Rome,” Mr Marcucci said on Facebook.

A professor at Bocconi University in Milan, Mr Cottarelli worked at the IMF for more than 25 years. He was nicknamed “Mr. Scissors” for his fiscal rigour.

In 2013 under former Prime Minister Enrico Letta, he delivered a plan for saving more than €30 billion (Dh128.45bn) over three years. Only part of the plan was implemented and he complained about resistance from Italy’s bureaucracy.