Showdown nears for Italy's simmering political crisis

Rome (AFP) –


A cabinet meeting widely seen as setting the stage for a final showdown in Italy's simmering government crisis will be held Tuesday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said.

He will ask his ministers to approve plans to spend around 200 billion euros ($240 billion) in loans and grants that Italy expects to receive from the European Union to help its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

"We must approve the recovery plan tomorrow evening," Conte told RAI public television on Monday.

He added: "We want to hold a cabinet meeting tomorrow night, we must hurry."

The plan has been a major bone of contention between Conte and former premier Matteo Renzi, who is threatening to pull his small but pivotal Italia Viva party out of the ruling centre-left coalition.

"What we are asking for is: either we spend (the EU funds) properly, or you spend them without us," Renzi told Rtl 102.5 radio, adding: "I'm sick of wasting more time."

If Renzi remains unhappy about how Conte intends to use the EU money, he is expected to react by withdrawing the two Italia Viva ministers from the cabinet.

A government crisis would leave Italy rudderless in the middle of a pandemic that has so far claimed almost 79,000 lives and plunged the economy into its worst post-war recession.

Most analysts expect a reordering of the ruling coalition with a government reshuffle, although there is an increasingly personal animosity between Conte and Renzi.

"We think that this government has had its day," Laura Garavini, an Italia Viva senator, told AFP, complaining about Conte's "very unfortunate" attitude towards her party.

She said she expected matters to come to a head over the course of the week, and warned the premier against trying to sideline Renzi by trying to win over the support of opposition lawmakers.

"If the prime minister insists on going to parliament (for a vote of confidence) we will count up the votes, and we will definitely vote against (the government)," Garavini said.