Italy's PM Conte survives confidence vote

Clay Curtis
January 20, 2021

Premier Giuseppe Conte appealed to the Senate to get behind his government on Tuesday on what is set to be a day of reckoning after it was plunged into crisis by Matteo Renzi's Italia Viva (IV) party pulling its support.

Conte overcame a similar confidence motion in the lower house on Monday.

According to a preliminary, informal count, Conte won by 153 votes to 140, a margin of victory that was narrower than expected, although the result had not been confirmed at the time.

An absolute majority in the Senate is 161, so to pass critical legislation, including aid to help Italy's battered economy, Conte faces the unpleasant prospect of having to rely on lawmakers outside his coalition.

Last week, Renzi yanked his two ministers from his small, centrist Italia Viva (Italy Alive) party, in a spat over how much control Conte would hold in deciding how the European Union largesse gets spent.

In the event, only two members of the opposition centre-right Forza Italia party switched sides on Tuesday, while a number of unaligned politicians who had come under heavy pressure to help the government ended up voting against Conte.

"This is a government that does not have the numbers in the Senate, so how can it pull Italy out of the crisis?"

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But even more important is the quality of the political project, " Mr. Conte said in seeking Senators' support. Now, Conte seeks to push through notably a Euro 220 billion spending plan for European Union recovery funds.

However the result leaves Conte clinging to power with a weakened, minority government at a time when Italy is struggling to contain the covid-19 pandemic amid the worst economic turmoil since world war two. That is a bold stance, considering the Democrats, a main coalition partner, ruled out making any coalition deal with defector Renzi.

Among them was Liliana Segre, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor and senator-for-life who traveled from Milan to vote for the premier despite not yet receiving a coronavirus vaccination. The opposition center-right is demanding an early election, but that option is considered the least likely outcome of the political crisis, given the difficulty of organizing a campaign and vote during a pandemic.

Renzi had insisted Italy should access loans from the EU's European Stability Mechanism to bolster the health system during the pandemic.

EU Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis expressed hope that Italy's "political instability would not compromise" Italy's already "substantial" preparation of the recovery plan. The second one will take place on Tuesday after Conte addresses the Senate.

The government has been teetering near collapse since former premier Matteo Renzi withdrew his Italia Viva party last week, depriving Conte of his majority in the Senate.

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