Italy's Five Stars back PM but say open to Renzi return

Rome (AFP) –


Italy's largest party in parliament, the Five Stars Movement (M5S), said Friday that it stood behind Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte as the country's political crisis drags on unresolved.

At the same time, the party left open the door to negotiations with Matteo Renzi, the former premier who sparked the turmoil earlier this month by withdrawing his small Italia Viva party from the ruling coalition.

"For the Five Stars Movement, the only person capable of leading the country with seriousness and efficiency through this particularly complex phase is Giuseppe Conte," said the party's leader, Vito Crimi.

Crimi spoke after his party's delegation met with President Sergio Mattarella, the ultimate arbiter of Italian politics, who is charged with deciding how to pull the country out of the current crisis.

Since Wednesday, Mattarella has been meeting with all parties to establish whether Conte has enough support to return at the helm of a stronger government, or if another prime minister should be named.

Renzi has spent weeks criticising Conte's handling of the coronavirus pandemic -- which has left almost 88,000 people dead in Italy -- particularly how to spend billions of euros in EU recovery funds.

He withdrew his party from the coalition dominated by the populist Five Stars and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which had shared power since September 2019.

That deprived Conte of his parliamentary majority and forced his resignation on Tuesday, sending matters into the hands of Mattarella.

- Adding to problems -

Crimi did not cite Renzi by name, but made a veiled reference to the boisterous ex-premier, saying that politicians must "resolve problems, and not add to them".

M5S has been divided over whether or not to try to find common ground with Renzi after what many Italians view as an irresponsible and self-serving move by the Italia Viva leader.

But Crimi signalled that negotiation with Renzi was still possible.

"We've expressed our willingness to a confrontation with those who intend to give concrete answers in the interest of the country with a collaborative spirit, with a government that starts from the majority forces that have worked together in the last year and a half," he said.

Renzi met with Mattarella on Thursday and said afterwards that the M5S and PD needed to make a sign of rapprochement.

A leading Italia Viva figure, Ettore Rosato, said on Friday that Crimi's words "go in the direction of what we had asked for".

Italia Viva is barely registering three percent in opinion polls, but without its backing, Conte cannot control the Senate upper parliamentary house.

Despite the turmoil surrounding him, Conte was named the country's most popular politician in a survey published on Thursday.