Italy’s Left Courts Populists, Rules Out Grand Coalition

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

Italy's left-wing leader Pier Luigi Bersani speaks in Bologna, February 24, 2012
Italy’s left-wing leader Pier Luigi Bersani speaks in Bologna, February 24, 2012 (Partito Democratico Emilia Romagna/Vincenzo Menichella)

Italy’s left-wing leader Pier Luigi Bersani announced on Tuesday that he was willing to put forward a political program without looking to form a fixed alliance, apparently in an attempt to court comedian and political activist Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement which prevented the country’s largest left- and right-wing parties from winning an absolute majority in parliament.

Bersani’s Partito Democratico, which emerged from Sunday’s and Monday’s election with a majority of the seats in the lower chamber of parliament but not the Senate, will likely be asked by President Giorgio Napolitano to initiate talks to form a new government.

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 that Bersani enter a “grand coalition” with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà.

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 “able 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.

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 option as a grand coalition with the conservatives was firmly ruled out by several top members of his party on Tuesday as well as his ally Nichi Vendola who leads the far-left Sinistra Ecologia Libertà party.

Berlusconi did hint at such a coalition 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 scheduled to head for the polls already in less than two months’ time to elect a new president.

Whatever government emerges in Italy, other European Union member states 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.”

However, neither Berlusconi nor Grillo seemed particularly concerned during the campaign about keeping Italy’s government deficit under 3 percent of gross domestic product as stipulated in European fiscal law. The former promised to scrap an unpopular property tax implemented by the incumbent premier Mario Monti. The latter called for a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro. Meanwhile, Bersani’s left-wing alliance wasn’t too keen about the labor market and pension reforms that were enacted under Monti’s watch. Italy’s next government is likely to be less economically liberal and fiscally conservative in any event.

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