Analysis. Tensions over arms to Ukraine and the incinerator in Rome split the Five Stars. Conte’s efforts to please both sides leave him in a position of pleasing no one.

Conte’s precarious position, in government but with flagging support

The National Council of the Five Star Movement convened on Monday afternoon ended its work on Tuesday by confirming Giuseppe Conte’s line: the M5S deems it “absolutely appropriate that Italy, after having already sent various supplies, including armaments, should now concentrate its efforts on the diplomatic level.” And they called for “the prime minister to come to Parliament to report on the initiatives implemented so far and those planned so that there is full agreement on the political direction.”

Is everything going well, then? Not quite. Fears are circulating among Conte’s supporters that the image of the M5S is suffering, that the party is being held back in the polls because its political and government line no longer appeals to those nostalgic for being in the opposition, nor to those who advocate for the need to gain credibility with the majority that supports Draghi.

A telling example of the difficulty Conte finds himself in is the selection of the chairman for the revamped Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. The default option, welcomed by the top leadership, would have been Gianluca Ferrara. However, he has been hit with controversy and publicly pilloried for old remarks dredged up which have been denounced as “anti-American.” As regards the origin of these revelations, one suspects “friendly fire” coming from the PD and the M5S wing close to Luigi Di Maio. The PD has announced that it will respect the judgment of the Five Stars, who ultimately had to choose between former group leader Ettore Licheri, preferred by Conte, and Simona Nocerino, from the Di Maio camp, also liked by the Dems. On Tuesday, there was a majority meeting and then a meeting of the M5S senators aiming to reach a solution on the issue.

Conte has no intention of leaving the majority, but by throwing barbs against Draghi, he is both distancing himself from those supporting the government and generating disappointment on the part of those who would like him to pursue his differences with the government line to the most extreme conclusion.

On Thursday, at the premier’s parliamentary briefing, the party was set to follow the guiding line established at the end of the heated M5S National Council meeting. The result of the upcoming vote at the end of May, when Draghi will report to the Chamber of Deputies before attending the European Council, remains to be seen. Conte has joined forces with Bersani and Speranza, with whom he’s talking almost every day, to try to move the PD, but by now he has realized that this is Letta’s kind of government, with its center of gravity among the moderates.

Beppe Grillo is not making things any easier, floating on his blog arguments made by unlikely interlocutors in favor of positions considered non-starters in foreign policy, as happened with the text of former ambassador to Saudi Arabia Torquato Cardilli.

More evidence of the steep slope on which Conte is in danger of sliding is the Rome incinerator, which has now become a matter of national politics. Draghi’s decree has contributed to this fact, as it gave special powers of waste commissioner to Rome mayor Roberto Gualtieri. There as well, the Five Stars have ostentatiously declined to vote on the disputed decree, but are counting on regional councilor Roberta Lombardi to find some compromise.

Virginia Raggi is following a path of her own, claiming to be irrevocably opposed to any such facility of any type. The radicals are calling for a referendum on the incinerator, the Grillo camp is taking up the challenge, and the crucial question that immediately arises is, how will Giuseppe Conte, himself a citizen of Rome, decide to vote?

Some are beginning to suspect that perhaps Di Maio wanted to escape the horns of this political dilemma – that of the two faces of the M5S, both the reason for its past successes and for its political paralysis – when he resigned as political leader to become a pragmatic, government-minded figure in the Grillo camp, constantly accused of plotting in the shadows. He chose to be on the sidelines, waiting for Conte to make his choice: either to shift to Di Maio’s positions or to break with the majority, causing a likely split in the party and leaving the foreign minister with the dowry of the centrist part of M5S.

What appears certain is that Conte cannot continue like this for long. It’s likely true, as his own people have been saying for some time now, that the results of the June 12 local government elections will not decide his fate; but it is certain that after the summer, he will have to find a way to extricate himself from the corner he has painted himself into.

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