The next choices of the M5S, starting with the level of opposition to Minister Cartabia’s justice system reform, will make it clear who has really won the internal battle.
After the announcement on Sunday of the agreement reached between Grillo and Conte, the prospect of a party split has fallen off the radar: the former premier stands to be elected president by a digital vote (on another platform, not Rousseau) to be held by the end of July, while the comedian will retain the role of “guarantor,” meaning “a guardian of the principles and values of political action” (more or less as in the old statute from 2017), with the powers of appointing the college of guarantors and the college of arbitrators (probiviri), who have the last word on highly sensitive issues such as expulsions from the party.
As in all true compromises, each side has given up something: Grillo had to let go of his grip on communication, which was very dear to him, and the primacy in foreign policy. Conte, on the other hand, has accepted that the role of guarantor will be one that is not so much symbolic and honorary, but with actual political weight.
Each of the two will have 50% of the power to appoint the treasurer. There remains the risk of a “diarchy,” something that Conte, the “people’s lawyer,” wanted to avoid—even though Conte has secured for himself the formula that the president will be “the sole person in charge and responsible for determining and implementing the political direction of the M5S.”
And he will have the power to name the members of the political secretariat, which must then be approved by online voting. In short, there is a clear shift towards presidential power, as the former premier wanted.
All this barring any last-minute turns, as the two sides were still working on the agreement as of Monday night, which is why on Monday there was only deafening silence from the ranks of M5S. It was a sort of suspense, in the fear that a loophole would reignite the conflict.
In the end, it won’t be the statute agreed by the lawyers of the two sides, but actual politics that will establish who’s really in charge. And the first test will be on the justice reform. At Sunday’s meeting, which could have sanctioned an irremediable break and instead began with the announcement of a truce, some spoke out against the reform of the statute of limitations. And Conte, in his conversations, has made it clear that Draghi’s phone call to Grillo to secure the approval of the M5S ministers was a sign of disrespect that “must not happen again.”
Moreover, it is clear to everyone, from the Democratic Party to the Palazzo Chigi, that the installation of Conte at the head of the M5S will not bring tranquility to the government. Quite the contrary. From August 3—the beginning of the last six months of the President’s term—in the face of new conflicts on the government measures that the Five Stars hold dear (such as the citizenship income, which Renzi and Salvini want to scuttle), the push of the party’s parliamentarians to leave the majority will be stronger and stronger—even while the former premier has reiterated that he wants to “have a stronger voice” and has “never even thought” about causing a government crisis.
The first test will be on justice reform. Conte’s line is to fight it in Parliament, while Di Maio (one of the main mediators) has begun the push to secure changes. The president of the House Judiciary Committee, Mario Perantoni, is among the most embattled against the Cartabia reform (which will pass through his committee before July 23), and so is Giulia Sarti (“A piece of garbage that I will never vote for”).
In the House, there is also former minister Alfonso Bonafede, furious that the law he passed is being rewritten. In the Senate, the number of M5S senators opposed is well over 70% of the group. In short, the level of M5S pressure against a key step for the Draghi government will serve as a measure of whether Conte’s leadership is really authoritative in the groups.
But the premier has already explained that he does not intend to accept changes to a compromise that has been hammered out with great difficulty with Forza Italia, Lega and Italia Viva, which are aligned on a pro-reform line. So it will be a hard battle.
In the PD camp, Letta breathed a big sigh of relief at the news of the truce within the M5S. And so did his predecessor Zingaretti, who welcomed the agreement, calling any doubts about the need to build an alternative to the right wing together with the M5S “madness.”
Goffredo Bettini had a similar position, calling out those in the PD who were siding with Renzi and rejoicing at the crisis in the M5S: “I don’t see how one could rejoice at the difficulties that Conte’s attempt has run into. Fragmentation would lead to destabilizing confusion, including in view of the elections of the head of state. And it would leave the PD without the main partner of its government proposal.”
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