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Italy's League and 5-Star parties make 'significant steps' towards government deal

Tiziana Fabi, AFP | This combination of images shows anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) leader Luigi Di Maio (L) and the leader of the far-right party Lega, Matteo Salvini.

The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and far-right League have made “significant steps” towards forming a government, the two parties said on Thursday as Italy looked to end nine weeks of political deadlock.

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The two groups, who are both hostile to European Union budget restrictions and have made electoral pledges that would cost billions of euros to implement, entered into negotiations on Wednesday just as a swift return to the polls looked inevitable.

“Significant steps forward have been made on the composition of the government and on the (nomination) of a prime minister,” a joint statement said following a meeting between League leader Matteo Salvini and 5-Star chief Luigi Di Maio.

They gave no indication of who might lead the administration or who could take charge of the key ministries.

“I cannot disguise my joy and happiness that we can finally start solving Italy’s problems,” Di Maio told supporters on Facebook. He said he should have more details later in the day.

News that a deal was at hand pushed the spread between Italian benchmark bond yields and the safer German equivalent to their widest level in seven weeks over fears state accounts might take a hit. Italian shares also lost ground.

Italy has been stuck in political limbo since an inconclusive March 4 election that saw a centre-right bloc, including the anti-immigrant League, win the most seats, and the 5-Star emerge the largest single party by far.

5-Star had signalled for weeks it was ready to form a coalition with the League, but not with that party’s electoral ally, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, whom it sees as a symbol of political corruption after years of scandals.

Salvini had refused to abandon Berlusconi out of loyalty to the centre-right bloc, but the 81-year-old billionaire businessman finally agreed to step aside voluntarily late Wednesday, removing a major obstacle to an accord.

Even so, a government deal faces various difficulties.

EU conflict

5-Star draws much of its support in the impoverished south while the League’s electoral base is the wealthy north. While 5-Star wants to introduce generous welfare benefits, the League wants to slash taxes.

One of the first things the two parties are likely to agree on will be to scrap a 2011 pension reform which raised the retirement age and required further hikes over time. Economists say repealing the law would cost 20 billion euros ($24 billion) a year, but opponents say it is unfair on ordinary Italians.

Both parties also want to renegotiate the EU’s fiscal rules to allow Italy to spend more. 5-Star has rowed back on a pledge to hold a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro zone, but the League still calls the euro a “flawed currency” and wants to exit it as soon as is politically feasible.

Setting up a possible institutional clash in Italy, President Sergio Mattarella made clear on Thursday that he did not want to see any confrontation with Brussels.

“To think that one can go-it-alone in Europe is knowingly deceptive in front of public opinion,” Mattarella said in a pointedly pro-European speech at a conference on the state of the European Union in the town of Fiesole.

Referring to the euro, he said: “We have a currency that is capable to being a concrete anchor in international relations, a role that no national currency can perform.”

(REUTERS)

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