Tuesday 21 August 2018

Furious leaders in Italy call for fresh elections

Italy’s former prime minister candidate Giuseppe Conte (centre) leaves after a meeting with President Sergio Mattarella. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images
Italy’s former prime minister candidate Giuseppe Conte (centre) leaves after a meeting with President Sergio Mattarella. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

Andrea Vogt

Italy's populist parties demanded immediate fresh elections last night after they were prevented from forming a government by Sergio Mattarella, the Italian president.

Warning that they would reject plans for a caretaker executive, the leaders of the Five Star Movement and the anti-immigration League called for nationwide protests on Saturday and vowed to "win big" in fresh elections.

Both party leaders expressed fury at Europe's political and economic elite after their choice of a staunchly Eurosceptic finance minister was vetoed by Mr Mattarella in favour of Carlo Cottarelli (64), a former IMF economist.

Luigi Di Maio, the Five Star leader, called for the president's "impeachment" while Matteo Salvini, the League leader, fulminated that Italy was "not a colony" of Brussels, Paris or Berlin and that the coming elections would be a contest between "the people and the palace".

Mr Di Maio, referring to Italy's Republic Day celebrations on Saturday, said: "I invite you all to come to Rome for a big event.

"It is important that we make ourselves seen and heard."

Former IMF official Carlo Cottarelli. Photo: Tony Gentile/Reuters
Former IMF official Carlo Cottarelli. Photo: Tony Gentile/Reuters

He was speaking after Mr Mattarella requested that Mr Cottarelli try to form a technocratic caretaker government in preparation for elections next year.

Both Mr Di Maio and Mr Salvini vowed not to support Mr Cottarelli and called for elections straight away.

Their fury was backed by populists across Europe who were incensed that Mr Mattarella had apparently bowed to pressure from the financial markets and leading French, German and European Commission figures warning against Italy breaking EU budget rules.

Marine Le Pen, the French National Front leader, said Mr Mattarella's decision amounted to a "coup d'etat" while Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's former strategist, called the last 48 hours of political events in Italy "disgusting".

However, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, praised his Italian counterpart for fulfilling his role as the guarantor of the country's institutions with "courage and responsibility".

A large German business association also said its members were relieved.

The appointment of Mr Cottarelli - known as "Scissorhands" for his reputation for budget cuts - flatly contradicted the agenda of the two parties which had last week set out a €100bn spending bonanza in their now-failed programme for government.

It comes after the populists' own prime minister designate, Giuseppe Conte, a professor of law, resigned on Sunday after just four days in the job when it became clear that Mr Mattarella would not back down over the choice of finance minister. The populists had wanted to install Paolo Savona, a controversial Eurosceptic finance minister, who had in the past described the single currency as a "German cage" and an instrument of German domination in Europe.

In his first public remarks at the presidential palace, Mr Cottarelli said that if he failed to win a confidence vote on a soon-to-be proposed platform and cabinet, he would resign and call elections after the summer holiday.

Irish Independent

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