New Italy government seeks green light from Senate

Rome (AFP) –


Italy's new government faces a confidence vote in the upper house of parliament Tuesday, the last hurdle to overcome before the pro-European executive can get down to work.

The coalition of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and centre-left Democratic Party (PD), led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, easily won a confidence vote in the lower house on Monday.

Tuesday's ballot was set to be a closer-cut affair as the government has a smaller Senate majority -- about eight votes more than the majority of 161 needed.

But political watchers have said it is expected to get the green light.

Conte on Monday presented his programme to applause from supporters and boos from the opposition. Tuesday's debate ahead of the vote was similarly charged, with cries of "traitor!" from the far right.

Five Star (M5S) and the PD agreed to join forces after strongman Matteo Salvini pulled his anti-immigration League party from a coalition with the M5S in August, toppling the government.

Salvini has accused the M5S and PD, which have long despised each other, of wedding purely over their dislike for him and their fear of fresh elections.

"You are the minority in this country... You can run for a few months, but you cannot escape (elections) indefinitely," he said.

Salvini reached out to M5S supporters in particular who may feel betrayed by the Movement's alliance with the centre left.

Conte did not mention Salvini by name, but slammed the "arrogance" of the man who felled the previous government and demanded "full powers" -- the exact words used by wartime dictator Benito Mussolini.

- 'Not good enough' -

The most pressing issue facing Rome will be the upcoming 2020 budget, a key test for relations with Brussels.

The prime minister on Monday called for the EU's Stability and Growth Pact, which limits budget deficits to three percent of gross domestic product in member states, to be "improved" and simplified.

The pact was the main bone of contention between the European Commission and the previous coalition in heavily indebted Italy, which must submit a balanced budget to Brussels in the coming weeks.

Ratings agency Moody's said Monday it expects the new government to be less eurosceptic and have better relations with Brussels and fellow EU member states.

Italy's former centre-left premier Paolo Gentiloni was handed the economy portfolio in the incoming European Commission on Tuesday.

The government is also facing calls to ease Salvini's hardline immigration rules, which ban charity ships that have rescued migrants from entering Italian waters.

Conte called Tuesday for "all political parties and citizens to avoid obsessively concentrating on the slogans 'open the ports', 'close the ports'."

The Ocean Viking, which is run by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders, is stuck at sea, after appealing in vain for a safe port to disembark those it has saved.

The Alan Kurdi, which had been asking to dock for 10 days, was refused permission by Italy late Monday, but given the go-ahead to disembark its five migrants in Malta on Tuesday after a deal with other European countries to take them in.

"The government's first act is closing the ports to the Alan Kurdi. This is not good enough, not at all," PD lawmaker Matteo Orfini tweeted.