Conte under pressure as Salvini's popularity soars

Conte (left) and Salvini in parliament. Photo credit: 24 Emilia

ROME - Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s position in Italy’s government seems increasingly insecure as results in the latest European elections look set to drastically change the power dynamic of the coalition between Matteo Salvini’s resurgent League and the waning 5 Star Movement (M5S).

 Il Messaggero reported Tuesday that Conte is becoming an increasingly isolated figure in parliament, and is concerned that League leader Salvini poses a threat to his position in government. “He is after my job,” the premier told figures close to him, after he received a call from Salvini in which the latter, while pledging his allegiance to Conte, went on to affirm that he would be taking the reigns in the government's decision making from now on. "The Italians have spoken thus...," Salvini gloated over the phone. 

 "I don't know what is going to happen. Only once I have sat down with Di Maio and Salvini in the same room, and only after I have looked them both in the eyes, will I be able to understand if a human relationship and reciprocal trust are possible between us," Conte told his advisors. 

 The news follows the M5S’ abysmal performance in May’s recent European elections in. The anti-establishment party lost circa 6 million votes and received under half the support the League did as the political tide continues to turn against them. While they entered the government as the majority party in 2018, receiving 32.7 per cent of the vote to the League's 17.4 per cent, they have been left in the dust by the meteoric rise of Salvini and his party. In the EU ballot, less than a year since the coalition government formed, Salvini's League received 34.3 per cent of the votes to the M5S' 17.1 per cent capping off a marked swing in popularity. 

 Salvini has consequently sought to press home his party’s advantage, pushing trademark League policies such as greater regional autonomy and the introduction of a high-speed train connection to France (TAV) higher up on the governmental agenda.

 The coalition’s top priority, though, must now be “safety and taxes,” the League leader declared. Salvini cited the need to plough on with his flat tax proposals and give Italy a “fiscal shock” to kick start its flagging economy.

 Italy entered into recession at the end of 2018 and has been unable to steady the ship since. The nation’s unemployment rate continues to rank amongst the worst in Europe, behind only Greece (18 per cent) and Spain (13.9 per cent), and the government was recently chastised by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker who stated that “economic growth in Italy has been behind European growth for the last 20 years.”

 M5S leader Luigi Di Maio also called for the swift introduction of a flat tax, breaking his silence after the embarrassing margin of his party’s EU electoral defeat. Di Maio recognised the importance of breathing life into the nation’s stagnant economy regardless of the political implications of his party’s performance, but was quick to add that he would not be resigning from his position. “United we won, united we lost. I don’t see it as an issue of who implements change, but rather what is implemented and how it is done.”

 Both leaders have pledged their support to the coalition for the time being, but these results will likely have destabilised an already rocky relationship further.