ROME (AP) — Italy’s president on Friday tasked a parliamentary leader with determining by early next week whether the squabbling parties in caretaker Premier Giuseppe Conte’s collapsed government can unite anew to steer the country amid the pandemic.
The announcement by President Sergio Mattarella’s office stopped short of saying whether Conte would ultimately be tapped to try to forge what would be his third coalition government since June 2018.
Instead, it said that Chamber of Deputies President Roberto Fico was asked to report back to Mattarella by the end of Tuesday on whether a reborn coalition was achievable.
Fico is a prominent figure in the populist 5-Star Movement, the largest party in back-to-back coalitions under Conte.
Mattarella made clear Italy — which has suffered Europe’s second-highest COVID-19 death toll — could afford to waste no time in finding a new government.
“The three emergencies on the health, social and economic fronts require immediate measures by the government,” Mattarella said. “It is a matter of duty then to give life quickly to a government with adequate backing in Parliament."
Conte quit on Monday after losing a dependable majority in the Senate because a small partner led by volatile former Premier Matteo Renzi yanked its ministers in a dispute over how some 209 billion euros ($253 billion) in European Union pandemic recovery funds will be spent.
Fico accepted what is known as an ‘’exploratory'' mandate, saying: “It's a very delicate moment for the country. We're called to face it with utmost responsibility in order to give citizens the urgent answers they expect.”
Hours earlier, the 5-Stars political leaders indicated they would consider working with Renzi's small Italy Alive party if the two sides can agree on policy.
Since Conte resigned, Mattarella, as head of state, met with leaders of Italy's myriad of political parties to see who could cobble together a coalition. Elections are due in spring 2023, and center-right opposition parties had lobbied Mattarella to bring the date forward.
But Mattarella said it was apparent in his talks that there's “the prospective for a political majority, made up of the groups" that backed Conte's just-ended government.
Mattarella, though, in tasking Fico, insisted on certainty.
Officially, Conte, a lawyer specializing in mediation, doesn't lead any party, but became premier thanks to staunch lobbying by the 5-Star Movement. The 5-Stars and Renzi's party were at loggerheads for weeks.
There was hints earlier Friday of a break in the impasse when a 5-Star leader, Vito Crimi, indicated the Movement's willingness to again join in coalition with Renzi's forces if both sides can agree on policy.
Given Renzi's betrayal this month of Conte, forging yet another government with Italy Alive's support could further splinter the already-fractious 5-Star Movement, which has been losing popularity in opinion polls.
If the Movement cedes to Renzi's demands, “arrivederci and thanks,” warned a major 5-Star leader, Alessandro Di Battista in a Facebook post.
A Renzi party leader in Parliament, Ettore Rosato, shrugged off the 5-Stars internal problems.
“This government fell” on issues of substance, Rosato told state TV. “If we resolve the problems, I think we can give birth to a stronger government than before.”