Italy’s center-left Democratic Party (PD) and its former rivals of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement are exploring a potential, last-ditch alliance to shape a new government and avoid snap elections, which would likely lead to a sound victory of Matteo Salvini's League.
The surprising alliance between the two sides, which have been constantly battling each other in the past year, shaped up in parliament as the only option to derail plans by Interior Minister Salvini to pull the plug on the populist government he forged with the Five Stars only 14 months ago.
In a sign that the alternative alliance with the PD was gaining traction, the Five Stars’ top leadership, which met at founder Beppe Grillo's Tuscan house on Sunday afternoon, clearly ruled out a reconciliation with Salvini, dismissing him as “an unreliable partner".
On Tuesday, Italy's prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, will address the Senate in a key speech after which he may decide to resign and formally open a government crisis.
Salvini is eager to capitalise on the League’s success in May’s European elections, when the right-wing party doubled its votes to over 34% from 2018 general elections, while the Five Stars almost halved them to 17%, completely reversing the balance of power within the coalition. The two coalition parties have often split over key economic measures, and more recently, over Salvini's hard-line immigration policies.
During the weekend, mediators from both the PD and the Five Stars continued frantic talks to reach a deal seen as the only option to stop Salvini’s ascent to power with a far-right coalition.
According to the latest opinion polls, the League and its former allies from Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia and Giorgia Meloni's far-right Brothers of Italy could win 50% of votes in Italy heads to the polls. One of the main sponsors of a PD-5Stars alliance is former premier Matteo Renzi, who still holds a strong influence over PD lawmakers, but is highly unpopular among Italian leftist voters.
Mr Renzi has repeatedly invited his party to unite and back a short-term “anti-Salvini government” with the Five Stars, which would be responsible to approve by year-end a budget law able to avert a painful 23-billion-euro VAT hike that risks plunging Italy into a new recession. But the newly-elected PD’s secretary Nicola Zingaretti and his party leadership, struggling to define a common strategy for the battled PD, believe that an alliance with the Five Stars would further split up leftist voters in case of new elections.
They also fear that Mr Renzi’s bid hides a plan to regain power within the party and even create his own political group. In an op-ed published by Italian daily Il Messaggero on Sunday, former premier and influential leftist leader Romano Prodi backed the idea of a longer-term alliance with the Five Stars, which could even last until the end of the current legislature in 2023. That plan has been dubbed “Ursula,” as it would bring together the Italian parties, including moderate fringes of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, that joined forces in the European Parliament to elect the new Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.