by N. Peter Kramer
Matteo Renzi, once the favourite of Brussels eurocrats, withdrew his support from Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s coalition, leaving the Italian government several seats short of a majority in the Senate. Now, Italy has a huge problem.
The country stands to be the largest recipient from the €750 billion Covid-19 recovery fund the EU has created; Conte and Renzi have spent weeks feuding over how Rome’s expected €209 billion share of the grants-and-loans pot should be spent. PM Conte prefers to put himself and some appointed technocrats in charge of disbursing the funds. Renzi on the other hand demanded strong parliamentary oversight. ‘Brussels’ is taking Conte’s side; afraid that Renzi would empower Italy’s notoriously dysfunctional parliament and suggest that he should get out of the way so Conte and his technocrats can get on with the spending. But the PM’s way of working would empower Italy’s equally dysfunctional bureaucracy.
Neither side has realistic plans ready for how to use the tsunami of Covid money to revive Italy’s long-moribund economy. Italian politics is now a typical mess. Despite depriving Conte’s government of its slim majority in the Senate, Renzi appears not to want to trigger a new election. His tiny new party, Italia Viva, voted to pass the budget last month to avoid that outcome in order to prevent an electoral victory for the genuinely popular League of Matteo Salvini.
‘Brussels’ is wrong to blame Renzi. Its lack of faith in Italy’s parliament shows once more its technocratic and undemocratic character.