Analysis. Matteo Renzi has already raised his sights: the main target is Conte, and the bare minimum goal—which it is not a given that Renzi would be satisfied with—is a serious downsizing of his power.

Countdown toward government crisis as Renzi postpones breakup

The script was already written. The stage was no longer a summit limited to the heads of party delegations to the government, but a real meeting of the majority, enlarged to include the group leaders of Italia Viva and LeU and several party members, such as the deputy secretary of the PD, Andrea Orlando, as well as several ministers. No one expected pleasant surprises, and none actually arrive. Italia Viva rejected the new draft of the Recovery Plan, finding the “mere 13 pages” to be too vague and insufficient in some passages, and even “provocative,” according to the party’s group leader in the Senate, Davide Faraone. Renzi’s party proceeded in a hurry to issue ultimatums: “You have lost months. Now we want the final document right away, and we will give our opinion on that.”

They put the ESM and the bridge over the Messina Strait on the table, and they alluded to the authority over the secret services, which the premier does not want to give up. Giuseppe Conte replied by defending the work of mediation achieved with the new draft, and promised a meeting in the coming days to agree on a legislative pact point by point. It seemed like a dialogue between the deaf, but it was only play-acting by performers who knew from the beginning how it would go and were following the script.

In reality, the draft contains openings towards the requests made by IV and the majority in general, and this is undeniable. “It is a good basis for a constructive dialogue, but if you’re looking for pretexts, there is no dialogue that will hold,” said the group leaders of LeU, Loredana De Petris and Federico Fornaro.

But Matteo Renzi has already raised his sights: the main target is Conte, and the bare minimum goal—which it is not a given that Renzi would be satisfied with—is a serious downsizing of his power. However, IV has not withdrawn its two ministers to formally announce the crisis. It is waiting for the Council of Ministers to dismiss the draft: only at that point will the crisis be out in the open. The meeting was scheduled for Saturday, but Conte, at the strong push of the PD, finally postponed it to the middle of next week.

The bombardment from Renzi’s party had intensified since the morning. “Conte should take note that this stage has ended, and figure out whether he is able to write a new government pact,” attacked Minister Teresa Bellanova. “Conte is not indispensable,” Ettore Rosato added a few hours later. Renzi topped the belligerent chorus on TV, while the summit was still in progress: “Now, no more dragging it out. Conte must decide and bring the draft to the Council of Ministers as soon as possible.”

It is an ultimatum that leaves the door partly open for a “Conte 3” government, all yet to be discussed, very different from this government in its inspiration, internal balance, role and powers, if not also in the identity of the Prime Minister. This is exactly what Conte does not want, and what is pushing him to put his foot down, in addition to the inevitable and probably well-founded suspicion that, if he resigns, Renzi will take back every promise he made.

The Council of Ministers that will formalize the break is the last line to cross before the crisis, in unknown territory. In these few days, the PD hopes that “something new” will take place. But what? A summit of leaders—that is the “initiative” that Zingaretti has been insisting on to no avail for days, an occasion on which Conte would start the “revival” of the alliance. Behind this unclear formula, two or three steps are rather clear: the transfer of authority over the secret services, the unblocking of mediation on the ESM, to be invoked only in part, and the start of negotiations on the governance of the Recovery.

At that point, according to the PD’s reasoning, even if Renzi insists on breaking the alliance anyway, Conte would at least face the crisis from a position of strength, having Zingaretti, Di Maio and Speranza on his side. Because at the moment this is true more in terms of image than in substance. Zingaretti’s report and, even before that, the interview of group leader Graziano Delrio, certainly sounded lined up in defense of the government, but struck a more cautious tone than Conte wanted and expected.

The path the crisis will take is as much in the dark as its outcome. Conte remains strongly tempted to put the draft through the ultimate test in Parliament: the vote-by-vote challenge. That means presenting the draft in Parliament, putting it to a vote, counting up the result and then seeing what happens. The PD does not agree. The President doesn’t approve. It would be much better to resign immediately, get nominated to form a new government and try to rebuild one based on the same majority.

But that is the step in which Renzi will try to play the card of a new majority, the only hypothesis that the PD, in addition to the M5S, would consider unacceptable, because it would put Salvini back in play. It is impossible for anyone to make predictions, starting with the protagonists. This time, we are truly in complete darkness.

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