Italy’s PD, 5-Star government deal with Conte as PM close yet far

FILE PHOTO: Democratic Party leader Nicola Zingaretti speaks to the media, accompanied by leadership members Andrea Marcucci, Graziano Delrio, Paolo Gentiloni and Paola De Micheli, after consultations with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in Rome, Italy, August 22, 2019. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo

The ruling 5-Star Movement and the opposition Democratic Party appeared on the verge of a deal to form a new Italian government on Monday after the PD indicated it had abandoned a veto on Giuseppe Conte serving another term as prime minister. Italian media, however indicated that there were significant differences between the two sides.

Conte, who belongs to no party but is close to 5-Star, resigned last week after the collapse of a 14-month coalition between 5-Star and the hard-right League, brought down when League leader Matteo Salvini pulled out.

President Sergio Mattarella has given 5-Star a chance to avert a snap election by forming a new coalition with the PD. Last week he told them to report back by Tuesday, but on Monday he extended the deadline by an extra day to Wednesday.

Conte returned to Rome from a G7 meeting in Biarritz, France, for an evening meeting with 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio and PD chief Nicola Zingaretti intended to iron out the details of an accord.

His reinstatement, insisted on by the anti-establishment 5-Star but previously resisted by the centre-left PD, had been presented as the main stumbling block to a deal between the two traditionally antagonistic parties.

“We are working to give Italy a new government… I think we are on the right track. I am optimistic,” Zingaretti told reporters after a meeting earlier on Monday.

“We need to put together a (2020) budget which requires a new, serious and authoritative government,” he added.

The budget, however is proving to be the main stumbling block for this agreement.

Assuming there are no major hitches in negotiations over policy and ministerial posts, the new coalition government – Italy’s 67th since World War Two – could be sworn in early next week.

One obstacle could be hostility from 5-Star’s rank-and-file, many of whom view the PD as the symbol of a corrupt Italian establishment that 5-Star was set up to fight.

Conte was a virtually unknown lawyer when he was chosen by the League and 5-Star to head their government following an inconclusive March 2018 election. He is now Italy’s most popular politician, according to opinion polls.

Mattarella will meet with minor parties at his palace on Tuesday, before hearing the PD on Wednesday at 1400 GMT and closing his consultations with 5-Star at 1700 GMT.