Italy’s political landscape has grown more uncertain after the president refused to approve a Cabinet minister who was critical of the euro and the premier-designate quit his bid to form a populist coalition government.
After emerging from the Quirinal presidential palace, premier-designate Giuseppe Conte did not say why he could not form what would have been Western Europe’s first populist government.
But Italian President Sergio Mattarella told the nation minutes later he had refused to accept the nominee the eurosceptic League and 5-Star Movement parties had put forward as economy minister.
League leader Matteo Salvini in recent days had virtually given an ultimatum over the economy minister pick to Mr Mattarella, whose duties as head of state include sanctioning a new Cabinet.
The president said he approved all of the other Cabinet picks but rejected the coalition partners’ choice for the economy portfolio out of concern it would have a negative effect on financial markets and the Italian economy.
The economy ministry “always constitutes an immediate message of trust or alarm” for financial markets, Mr Mattarella said, adding that he had asked for someone who was not “supporting a position expressed more than once that could probably, or in fact inevitably, provoke Italy’s exit from the euro”.
Mr Mattarella said he was considering political party leaders’ requests for another election and would announce his next move “in the next hours”.
The previous parliamentary election, held on March 4, failed to produce a party with enough support to govern single-handedly. Mr Salvini and fellow Eurosceptic Luigi Di Maio of the 5-Star Movement agreed this month to join their rival forces in a coalition to break the political impasse.
With neither of them willing to back the other as premier, however, they ended up tapping political novice Mr Conte, a law professor at the University of Florence and a 5-Star supporter.
A presidential palace official, Ugo Zampetti, told reporters on Sunday night that Mr Conte “has given back the mandate” Mr Mattarella gave him four days earlier to try to form a government.
While Mr Conte held his final talks with the president, Mr Salvini was telling right-wing supporters he had refused to submit to a presidential veto of his choice for economy minister, Paolo Savona.
Mr Savona is a former industry minister who has questioned whether Italy at some point should ditch the euro as its official currency,
Anticipating Mr Mattarella’s decision, Mr Salvini said: “We’re not a free country. We’ve got limited sovereignty.”
Mr Di Maio also scathingly criticised Mr Mattarella’s veto of Mr Savona as “incomprehensible”.
“This is not a free democracy,” Mr Di Maio said.
Di Maio’s Movement is the largest party in the new Parliament but remains far short of having an absolute majority.
Italy’s outgoing economy minister Pier Carlo Padoan said in a TV interview on Sunday that the real problem is not Mr Savona, whom he described as having a good background for the post.
Instead, what Mr Padoan said he finds worrisome is the “clearly unsustainable” platform of a populist government “that doesn’t rule out a Plan B: that is, in the face of European pressures, one must leave Europe”.