Italy’s Left Courts Populists, Rules Out Grand Coalition

Italy’s largest left-wing party promises to put forward a program that others could support.

Pier Luigi Bersani speaks at a Democratic Party event in Bologna, Italy, February 24, 2012
Pier Luigi Bersani speaks at a Democratic Party event in Bologna, Italy, February 24, 2012 (Partito Democratico Emilia Romagna/Vincenzo Menichella)

Italy’s left-wing leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, has said he is willing to put forward a political program without looking to form a fixed alliance in an attempt to court Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

Bersani’s Democrats, who won a majority of the seats in the lower chamber of parliament but not in the Senate, are expected to be asked by President Giorgio Napolitano to launch talks to form a government.

Grillo’s whims

Grillo, who won more than a quarter of the votes and 54 seats in the Senate — making his the third largest party there — suggested immediately after the election this weekend that Bersani should form a “grand coalition” with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s conservatives.

The next day, he argued that it was “not time to talk of alliances,” however, and predicted that neither of the larger parties would be “a

le to govern,” with or without him. He called Bersani a “dead man talking” on his blog and reminded supporters of the left-wing leader’s past criticisms of their movement.

“Now this failed stain remover has the arrogance to ask for our support,” he wrote.

Minority government

But Grillo has also said, “We’re not against the world,” and promised to work with any party that supports his proposals, which range from anti-graft legislation to green energy programs.

Forming a minority government with informal support from Grillo’s party may be Bersani’s best or only hope given that his left-wing allies rule out a grand coalition with Berlusconi.

Berlusconi did hint at such a pact in a television interview on Tuesday, when he rejected the possibility of calling new elections.

“I don’t think it would be useful in this situation,” he said. Especially when Italians are due to return to the polls in two months’ time to elect a new president.

European obligations

Whatever government emerges in Italy, other EU countries will expect it to honor its commitments under the bloc’s fiscal treaty rules.

German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble said on ZDF television, “It is the responsibility of the politically responsible in Italy to forge from this result that what Italy needs, namely a stable government that will implement the successful reforms.”

Schäuble’s Dutch counterpart and chairman of the group of eurozone finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, similarly said, “I assume that, no matter what a new government in Italy looks like, it will live up to the agreements that have been made.”

Less committed

However, neither Berlusconi nor Grillo are particularly concerned about keeping Italy’s deficit under the EU’s 3-percent ceiling.

The former has promised to scrap an unpopular property tax. The latter calls for a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro.

Bersani’s left-wing alliance, for its part, wasn’t too keen about the labor and pension reforms enacted by the outgoing prime minister, Mario Monti.

Whatever its composition, Italy’s next government is likely to be less economically liberal and fiscally conservative.

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