Anti-establishment parties close to power-sharing deal in Italy

Rome (AFP) –


A deeply eurosceptic far-right party and an anti-establishment group that rages against Italy's ruling elite were on the verge of forming a coalition government in the eurozone's third largest economy on Monday, dealing a blow to mainstream European political parties across the continent.

The leaders of the anti-immigrant League party and rebellious Five Star Movement were expected to meet the Italian president to share details of a government programme thrashed out over the weekend after months of grinding negotiations.

Italy, one of six founding members of what became the European Union, has been in political deadlock since an inconclusive March 4 election, which was dominated by concerns over a struggling economy, the refugee crisis and illegal immigration.

Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio called the president's office on Sunday to "announce that they are ready from tomorrow (Monday) to report on everything, including the name of the prime minister," according to press agency AGI.

If the head of state accepts the nomination then the position could be filled within days.

Matteo Salvini, head of the League, said in a statement over the weekend that he and Di Maio were "writing history".

Both political parties have vowed to take tough positions with Brussels on issues like EU fiscal rules amid widespread Italian discontent over the country's economic malaise and a lack of European solidarity on dealing with migration.

According to Italian media reports, the nominee for prime minister will be from a "third party" and will have to be able to make the eurosceptic nature of the new government workable with Brussels.

Salvini and Di Maio are scheduled to meet in Rome on Monday before being received at the Quirinal, the presidential palace.

According to reports, the parties have agreed on rolling back increases to the age of retirement, while Five Star is willing to follow the League's hardline anti-immigration policies.

Salvini and Di Maio are also willing to make compromises over their flagship policies -- the League's drastic drop in taxes and Five Star's universal basic income -- which look tricky to reconcile in one of the eurozone's most indebted countries.

Officials in Brussels have warned Italy for years about its fiscal discipline and the need to lower its debtload.

For the composition of the government, the League and Five Star must also agree on representation from the parties.

Salvini's League won 17 percent of votes in March, but it was part of a right-wing alliance including Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party that garnered 37 percent of the vote.

Five Star is by far Italy's largest single party after winning nearly 33 percent of the vote.