July 19, 2019 / 10:28 AM / a month ago

Italy's Salvini to see Di Maio with government's fate hanging in balance

ROME (Reuters) - Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said on Friday he would meet coalition partner and leader of the 5-Star Movement Luigi Di Maio amid speculation that the increasingly unwieldy government might collapse.

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini attends a joint news conference following a cabinet meeting in Rome, Italy, June 11, 2019 REUTERS/Remo Casilli/Files

“We will certainly meet,” said Salvini, who heads the far-right League party. “The problem is not Di Maio, but opposition coming from many 5-Star politicians.”

Many League politicians have urged Salvini to quit the year-old coalition and seek early elections, complaining that they can no longer work with the anti-establishment 5-Star, which is holding up a handful of projects close to their heart.

Salvini did not say when he planned to see Di Maio, but made clear he sympathised with his parliamentarians.

“There is an obvious and total block on proposals, initiatives, projects and infrastructure by some 5-Star ministers that hurts Italy,” he said in his statement.

“It is nothing personal. Luigi Di Maio is a correct and respectable person, but the ‘no’s’ and the daily block on work and reforms by 5-Stars is unacceptable,” he added.

Much of the League’s anger is focused on stalled efforts to hand greater autonomy to the regions - something the party’s wealthy, northern strongholds have long demanded, but which 5-Star fears will strip funds from their own southern bastions.

Government ministers are due to meet later on Friday to discuss the project, with no compromise in sight.

ELECTION WINDOW

Italian political commentators have long speculated that the window for any government collapse would close on July 20. After that date, a new election would be pushed too deep into the autumn to enable approval of the 2020 budget, which is the cornerstone of the annual political calendar.

Italy has never held an election in the autumn or winter.

An Italian official, who declined to be named, said President Sergio Mattarella wanted a government in place in October to enact a budget. This meant any early vote would have to be held by early October, or else pushed back to next year.

The same source said there was no meeting scheduled between Salvini and the president and that the interior minister had not let the head of state know whether he wanted a snap election.

Salvini this week dismissed the notion of an election window, saying the coalition could fold at any time.

Salvini might be holding back on an immediate crisis because parliament is currently reviewing a piece of legislation he has championed that would make it much harder for charity rescue boats to bring migrants to Italian ports.

The bill must be approved by the middle of August and if the government is swept away, it would fall by the wayside.

Hostility between the two coalition parties has grown since European parliamentary elections in May when the League jumped above 5-Star to become the largest party in Italy.

Support for it is now approaching almost 40 percent and League politicians say they would be able to take charge of the country if early elections were called. By contrast 5-Star risks losing up to half its lawmakers, polls indicate.

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi di Maio holds a news conference in Rome, Italy, March 8, 2019. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/Files

Such forecasts put Di Maio in a difficult position and might make him open to compromise.

Besides the question of autonomy, the League is also frustrated about the 5-Star transport and defence ministers, Danilo Toninelli and Elisabetta Trenta respectively, accusing the former of blocking major infrastructure projects and the latter of not doing enough in the battle against immigration.

Salvini criticised both ministers in his statement on Friday and a 5-Star source said the League was pushing for a cabinet reshuffle to remove the two from government.

Additional reporting by Giselda Vagnoni and Angelo Amante; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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