Italy’s government faced a crucial confidence vote on Tuesday, following a tumultuous week of political uncertainty after former Prime Minister Renzi pulled his party out of the majority. The now narrower coalition scraped by in the Italian Senate winning 156 votes, enough to hold a simple majority and thus avoid a full-blown political meltdown in such trying times.
If the government led by Giuseppe Conte and supported by the Five Star Movement and the Democratic Party had lost the vote, he would have been forced to hand his resignation to the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella. This will not happen given that formally the government still received the confidence of both Houses. Politically, however, the coalition is now weaker. To ensure a more comfortable government action in the future, MPs amenable to supporting its policies will have to choose a side soon.
Paradoxically, the government was allowed to survive, while falling short of the 161 senators needed for an absolute majority, by the same party that triggered this showdown. Renzi and the other fifteen senators of his party, Italia Viva, abstained from voting. It should be noted that, according to Renzi, this was an attempt to spur the government into taking more decisive action to address the problems stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is anyone’s guess if he will succeed in his aims and if he will get back into the fold, participating in a national unity government without the parties on the right.
After a grueling day on the Senate floor, itself following a more comfortable vote in the Chamber of Deputies, Conte seems quietly optimistic in his statements. Shortly after the vote, he tweeted that “now our goal is to make this majority stronger. Italy has no time to lose. We need to work to overcome the health crisis and the economic one. Vaccinations, Recovery Plan and aids are our priorities”. While the vaccination effort is progressing, the last two points are more urgent and politically sensitive. Government subsidies can luckily count on most political parties’ support; how to spend the coming European funds is a more divisive issue, which was one of the leading crisis triggers.
Nonetheless, the leadership of both main majority parties seems to agree on unconditional support for the government. There will not be too much time to reach a comprehensive political agreement on a program to get safely to the end of the legislature, but everyone involved pledged their support to do so quickly.
So the Italian government lives to fight another day. The “nuclear option” of an early election seems pretty farfetched. Attention in Rome will now shift to how this or any future government will spend the EU pandemic recovery money to finally relaunch the Italian economy and dispel all concerns on the future of the country.