“It is certainly not our place to express vetoes or pose conditions.” With these words, in a lengthy statement released on Wednesday night after a day of indecision and doubt, Silvio Berlusconi gave the green light to the creation of a M5S-Lega government.
Forza Italia will not offer its votes to support the new government. Berlusconi was not clear whether they would abstain (as seems likely), will vote against it, or will leave the vote up to each individual MP. What is certain is that Forza Italia will not split the coalition with the Lega, and this is what truly matters: “If another political force that is part of our coalition wants to take the responsibility to create a government with the 5 Star Movement, we respectfully acknowledge this choice.”
The one who is suffering most as a result of this choice, however, is Berlusconi himself, the “lord of Arcore.” In truth, this was a decision he had to make with a gun to his head: the threat of a summer vote that promised to reduce his electoral standing to almost nothing. He folded. He will be in the opposition, but, of course, it will not be a hostile opposition.
“We cannot offer a vote of confidence, but we will evaluate the work of the government with calm and without prejudice.” His only consolation in this clear capitulation, which was however not an unconditional one, is his hope of enjoying benefits deriving from his position. Forza Italia will not be involved in the decisions of a government that will likely only exist, if it ends up doing so, thanks to his own party. He has shelved any plan to reach, in the few months until the snap elections, the parliamentary strength to overthrow the current balance of power and impose a center-right government.
He might yet be able to profit from his position in the coming days, if Salvini and Di Maio still do not come to an agreement: “No one will be able to use us as an excuse for the inability, or objective impossibility, to reach an agreement among political forces that are very different.” This is what “the Knight” hopes for, of course, focusing on the first hurdle that has not yet been cleared by the prospective “yellow-green” alliance: the choice of a prime minister. The Lega proposed Giorgetti, but Di Maio cannot bend so far as to give the keys to the Chigi Palace to a representative of the Lega Nord. It will be necessary to find a third figure acceptable to both parties, and this is not easy. Nor can one suppose that the head of FI—which is politically, even though not numerically, crucial for the birth of the new government—will give up the opportunity to exert his influence, albeit discreetly, on this crucial question. At bottom, the only guarantee that he believes he can trust is being able to intervene himself in the choice of the future occupant of the Chigi Palace.
The price that needed to be paid for this chance at a new government was also a kind of political recognition for Berlusconi himself. The sign that, after the many failed attempts on Tuesday, the situation could actually be resolved, arrived on Wednesday when the political leader of the M5S spoke for the first time about Silvio Berlusconi—whom Di Battista, his colleague, had once called “the absolute evil”—with honeyed words: “Among everyone, he is the least responsible for the stalemate, and there is no veto against him. But we want a government of two parties, because we have already seen what happens with governments of four or five.” In short, according to Di Maio, the problem with accepting Berlusconi into the government was that the number of parties would be too high, and not anything in the biography of the FI leader. Di Maio was not in a position to add anything more to sweeten this bitter pill. For his base, he probably already said too much.
On Wednesday, the president was expecting that, after the Hamlet-style vagaries coming from the “lord of Arcore” and the tug of war between the future yellow and green “spouses,” a definitive answer would finally arrive, and now is expecting that the proposal, still very vague, would have its details properly filled in. He is waiting to find out the name of the prime minister agreed upon by both parties, and also what kind of government would be proposed: a government aimed solely at passing a new electoral law, as in the recent proposal by Salvini, or one which would aspire to last for an entire legislative term.
On Wednesday morning, Mattarella was ready to call Elisabetta Belloni at 5 p.m. to entrust her with the task of heading a temporary government. He hadn’t changed his mind after the sugary words addressed by Di Maio to Berlusconi, and even after the surprise morning meeting between Salvini and the M5S leader. The day before there had been several developments that promised to be a turning point: before pausing his plans for entrusting the formation of a temporary government, Mattarella wanted something that expressed a real commitment. This finally arrived when the two leaders convened their respective parliamentary groups, a sign that something had really changed, which became even clearer when a formal request to the President to postpone his convocation of Belloni by 24 hours, which he immediately accepted.
In truth, the postponement is expected to last longer than that. On Thursday, Mattarella was in Florence, meeting with the president of Portugal. The period of postponement will end on Friday, but the step back taken by Berlusconi has certainly gotten the wheels moving, and even if the parties will ask for more time over the weekend to designate a prime minister, Mattarella should not oppose this. He is clearly aware that a new game is afoot—but one whose outcome is still uncertain and shrouded in confusion.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Your weekly briefing of progressive news.