Italian prime minister resigns as nation nears EU budget deadline

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday after 14 months in the position, blaming his rebellious and politically ambitious deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, for his downfall.

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Cracks in Conte’s government began to show earlier this month when Salvini and his right-wing League party threatened a "no-confidence" vote against Conte's coalition, forcing Conte to “interrupt” what he claimed was an effective government. He insisted the government reflected the results of Italy’s 2018 election and aimed to “interpret the desires of citizens who in their vote expressed a desire for change.”

The government coalition is comprised of opposing parties, anti-establishment 5-Star Movement of Conte and Salvini’s euroskeptic, nationalist League party. When first elected, apolitical and fairly non-partisan Conte represented positive change for many in Italy. In the last few months, however, polls report Salvini’s League party as the first among Italians.

Conte announced he will officially give his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella. While unlikely, Mattarella has the authority in Italy to urge Conte to continue and join an alternative majority in Parliament.

Seething enmity among coalition’s partners and cataclysmic rifts in the opposition Democrats make this challenging. Party leadership will offer consultations as soon as Wednesday for Mattarella, and he may guide another leader or non-partisan figure to forge ahead with a new government. The new government would be tasked leading the country during delicate budget negotiations with European Union financial regulations.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, center, greets Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, as he arrive to address the Senate, in Rome, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019. (Ettore Ferrari/ANSA via AP) (Associated Press)

If the negotiations go poorly, Mattarella could immediately dissolve Parliament, before the 2023 deadline, as Salvini has campaigned. This move would put a general election in motion for late October, just as the allocations are being assessed by Brussels.

Financial negotiations come at a desperate time for Italy. Italy is on the brink of recession, and growth has stagnated in the nation, beleaguered with high debt and high unemployment. Eurozone members have until a December deadline to reduce their debt. Italy currently has a debt-to-GDP ratio of around 132 percent, behind only Greece. The Commission forecasts this figure will rise to 135 percent next year.

In his departure announcement, Conte cited Salvini’s recent demands for an early election so he could gain “full powers.” Conte critized Salvini for showing “grave contempt for Parliament” and putting Italy at risk for a “dizzying spiral of political and financial instability” in a pivotal time for the country.

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Salvini brushed off the premier’s condemnation and began the Senate debate saying, “I’d do it all again.”