UK Markets closed

Giuseppe Conte quits as Italy's PM in tactical move

Angela Giuffrida in Rome
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Italian Prime Minister's Press O/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Italian Prime Minister's Press O/AFP/Getty Images

Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, has resigned in a tactical move aimed at maximising his chances of leading a new government.

Conte officially handed his resignation on Tuesday to the president, Sergio Mattarella, who will begin consultations with party leaders on Wednesday. Mattarella asked Conte to stay on in a caretaker capacity while talks continued.

If Mattarella believes Conte has a strong enough prospect of forming a majority, then he could be reappointed and tasked with forming a new executive with a broader coalition.

Conte’s resignation comes after he survived confidence votes in both houses of parliament last week after the former prime minister Matteo Renzi triggered a political crisis by withdrawing his small Italia Viva party from the ruling coalition. However, the confidence votes left Conte with only a slim majority and he has since failed to strengthen support.

Conte has the backing of the two main coalition parties – the Five Star Movement (M5S) and Democratic party (PD) – as well as the small leftwing group Free and Equal. The opposition, led by Matteo Salvini’s far-right League party, is calling for early elections to be held.

Establishing a broader coalition could depend on Italia Viva returning to the fold. Conte, as well as politicians from the PD and M5S, insisted last week that they would not work with Renzi again.

“It is currently unclear whether Conte can succeed in such an effort,” Wolfango Piccoli, the co-president of the research company Teneo Holdings, wrote in a note. “The PD and M5S are deeply divided internally on whether to negotiate with Renzi. Both parties are also striving to reduce the power that Conte has accumulated thanks to the pandemic over the last 11 months.”

Conte enjoyed popularity for his handling of the pandemic during the first wave, when the country endured a tough two-month lockdown, but has lost some credibility over the government’s haphazard approach to subsequent restrictions and weak financial response to businesses affected.

The crisis comes as Italy struggles to emerge from the pandemic and recession. Renzi was widely criticised after pulling Italia Viva, which attracts less than 3% in the polls, from the coalition. He did so over disagreements about the handling of the pandemic and a post-Covid-19 economic recovery plan. Italy is set to receive over €200bn (£178bn) from the EU’s recovery fund.

If Conte succeeds in forming a broad coalition, it would be his third administration in less than three years.

“A new coalition, either under Conte or a different prime minister, remains the most likely outcome,” said Piccoli. “However, it is doubtful that a more effective prime minister and government will emerge given the current parliamentary composition and the preferences of the main parties.”