In Fight With His Coalition Government, Italy's Prime Minister Resigns
NOEL KING, HOST:
After 14 months of infighting, Italy's government has now essentially collapsed. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned yesterday. He blamed political chaos and jockeying for power within his own coalition. And that coalition was only in power a short time, but it scared the European establishment. It antagonized the EU. It embraced strongman-style politics, and it demonized migrants.
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is on the line from Rome. Hi, Sylvia.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.
KING: So I imagine people are wondering, what on earth happens next in Italy?
POGGIOLI: Well, as The Economist wrote today, no one knows what comes next. President Sergio Mattarella will consult political leaders to see if there's a viable alternative majority in parliament for a new coalition. If not, he'll dissolve parliament and call snap elections. And that was the original goal of the man who triggered the government's fall, the controversial deputy prime minister, interior minister and leader of the far-right League Party, Matteo Salvini, who pulled out of the coalition two weeks ago.
You know, Salvini's popularity soared to almost 40%, thanks to his anti-immigrant policy. He wanted to take advantage of that to become the next government leader. But yesterday he received a stinging rebuke from Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who accused him of institutional recklessness that can lead to political uncertainty and financial instability. And one opposition leader accused Salvini of creating a climate of hatred that's led to a sharp rise in racist attacks against people of color.
KING: OK. So tell us a little bit more about Salvini 'cause this guy is clearly freaking out the European Union in many ways.
POGGIOLI: Absolutely. You know, after his nationalist League Party formed this very unlikely alliance with the anti-establishment Five Stars Movement, which is the biggest party in parliament, Salvini quickly took over the government agenda. Five Stars went along with his tough anti-immigrant measures. They even approved his parliamentary immunity when Salvini was investigated for holding migrants hostage while not allowing them to disembark at an Italian port. And Five Stars never complained about Salvini's savage criticism of the European Union and its regulations, which he describes as a ball and chain on Italy's foot.
Italy's one of the EU's largest economies. Like some other populist-led countries, Salvini pushed his government to challenge the whole idea of European integration. And, you know, Salvini has also raised alarms with his language, which critics say echoes that of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
POGGIOLI: But his fans love him. This summer, Salvini held a very public work vacation at a beach resort. He filled Facebook with images of himself, naked torso, mojito in one hand, a rosary in the other, while disco dancers gyrated to the national anthem. Even in the country of Silvio Berlusconi, it was an unprecedented sight.
KING: Yeah, it sounds like it. So what are the chances of a new coalition government?
POGGIOLI: Well, there's talk of an alliance between Five Stars and its archenemy, the center-left Democratic Party. First they'll have to overcome intense mutual distrust, but there's also a sense of urgency. Italy never holds elections in the fall. That's when the government drafts a new budget. And if Italy doesn't stick to EU demands to contain its budget deficit, it will have to raise sales taxes. That's devastating for consumers and for the country's feeble growth. Commentators are saying Salvini seriously underestimated his political rival's determination.
KING: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli. Thanks so much.
POGGIOLI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.