Italy was plunged into a fresh political crisis Sunday, with a coalition of populist parties abandoning their bid to form a government after the country’s president unexpectedly rejected their nomination for finance minister.
After the coalition said it was abandoning its plans to form a government, President Sergio Mattarella asked former International Monetary Fund executive Carlo Cottarelli Monday to form a technocratic interim government until new elections can be held.
“I am very honored and I will do my best,” Cottarelli told journalists after the meeting.
The country has been without a government since elections in March — the longest such period in its postwar history.
The anti-establishment Five Star Movement and right-wing League had been expected to form Italy’s next government, after hashing out the terms of a populist coalition pact under which to run the country.
But their plan ran into trouble Sunday when their candidate for prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, delivered the coalition’s picks for cabinet posts to the president.
Mattarella took the rare step of vetoing their nomination for finance minister, Paolo Savona, because the 81-year-old financier and economist had threatened to pull Italy, the eurozone’s fourth-biggest economy, out of the currency.
“The uncertainty over our position has alarmed investors and savers both in Italy and abroad,” Mattarella said in a televised address Sunday.
“Membership of the euro is a fundamental choice. If we want to discuss it, then we should do so in a serious fashion.”
How did the populist parties respond?
The League and Five Star responded angrily, announcing they were abandoning the attempt to form a coalition government and accusing Mattarella of abusing his office. “I have given up my mandate to form the government of change,” Conte said.
Five Star chief Luigi Di Maio called on parliament to impeach the president, saying “I want this institutional crisis to be taken to parliament… and the president tried.” “Why don't we just say that in this country it's pointless that we vote, as the ratings agencies, financial lobbies decide the governments?”
League head Matteo Salvini threatened mass protests unless snap elections were announced. “We won't have Germany tell us what to do,” he said.
In Italy’s system, the president's role is largely ceremonial, although it holds some key powers. While these include the power to block the appointment of a cabinet member, it’s rarely used.
What happens next?
Mattarella summoned Cottarelli, former director of fiscal affairs at the International Monetary Fund, to the Quirinale, the Italian Presidential Palace Monday to nominate him to lead a caretaker government.
Cottarelli, who worked at the IMF from 2008 to 2013, earned the nickname “Mr Scissors” for his cuts to public spending in Italy.
Cottarelli told reporters he had been asked to present a program to run the country until new elections early next year. If his government wins a parliamentary vote of confidence, then new elections would be held in early 2019, he said.
But analysts warned that any government headed up by Cottarelli would be unlikely to win a confidence vote — meaning that snap elections could be called as early as August. Cottarelli, whose role is to govern as a technocratic, non-political leader, would not contest any new elections.
The previous elections on March 4 delivered a hung parliament. Reuters, citing a Five Star source, reported that the party was considering campaigning together with the League if the country goes back to the polls.
Cover image: Carlo Cottarelli addresses a press conference at the Qurinale presidential palace on May 28, 2018 in Rome after Italian President gave him mandate to form a government. (ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)