Standoff in Italy over naming of new economy minister

Rome (AFP) –


The political standoff in Italy continued on Saturday over President Sergio Mattarella's refusal to approve the eurosceptic coalition's choice for economy minister.

Three days after being appointed by Mattarella as prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, 53, has still not been able to form a government.

Writing on Facebook late on Friday, League chief Matteo Salvini, who insists on naming the noted eurosceptic Paolo Savona as economy minister, was blunt.

"I am really very angry," he wrote.

The far-right leader had nominated Conte for the premiership along with Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio, but officially it is the head of state and the premier alone who appoint ministers.

And according to the Italian press, Mattarella will not bend for two reasons: to avoid isolating Italy in Europe and to protect the role of the president.

Conte met the president late on Friday to report "informally" on the discussions, but without presenting his final list of ministers.

Already unconvinced of Conte's authority over the political heavyweights who will compose his team, Mattarella -- elected by a parliament which at the time was dominated by the centre-left -- wants Italy to respect its European commitments.

But Salvini, 45, emboldened by the March 4 election, does not intend to give up either, reportedly to the point that he is willing to "blow everything up" and return to the voters.

- Nervy markets -

As guarantor of international treaties, Mattarella has been more discrete since the standoff began on Thursday.

But he was clear in denouncing the "unacceptability of diktats towards the prime minister and president" by political parties.

The centre-left Democratic Party of former premier Matteo Renzi, however, did not pull its punches.

"You are playing around at the expense of the country just to defend your miserable interests," party leader Maurizio Martina said in remarks addressed to Salvini said on Saturday.

There was no meeting scheduled for Saturday between Conte and the leaders of the League and Five Star, nor was there any indication that a solution could be found over the weekend.

The impasse has already started to make financial markets nervous, with the Milan Stock Exchange closing down again on Friday at -1.54 percent.

The difference in yield on Italian 10-year sovereign bonds compared to Germany's reached 217 points Friday afternoon -- the highest level since December 2013 -- before dropping slightly to 206 points at close.

Friday appeared to start positively, with Conte writing on his new Facebook page that his meeting with Di Maio and Salvini was "very profitable".

"The ministers I will be proposing will be politicians," he said.

But the exercise proved more complicated than expected for the little-known lawyer chosen by Five Star and the League because neither agreed to give the other the prime minister position.