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Analysis. Berlusconi and a guest ushered in by Ghedini (FI), Salvini and Giorgetti (La Lega) and Giorgia Meloni and La Russa (Fratelli d’Italia), agreed on a straightforward division: FI will appoint the Senate speaker, while La Lega will obtain the presidency of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region.

Italy’s three center-right leaders arm wrestle over Senate speaker

After two and a half hours, the three center-right leaders walked out of a meeting at Grazioli palace. They boasted they reached an agreement. Whether they truly agree is still not understood today — and may not even be tomorrow when the Senate votes.

While there are very few doubts the Senate speaker role will be assigned to a Forza Italia (FI) member, doubts do loom over the candidate the party put forward: Paolo Romani. The 5 Star Movement (M5S) declared they will not vote for him. The risk is that turncoat and Lega MPs might sabotage his appointment. And we might not even get to that stage. “We must get to names and surnames everyone agrees on,” Salvini said. His words sounds like a de profundis for Romani’s candidacy.

During the morning meeting Berlusconi and a guest ushered in by Ghedini (FI), Salvini and Giorgetti (La Lega) and Giorgia Meloni and La Russa (Fratelli d’Italia), agreed on a straightforward division: FI will appoint the Senate speaker, while La Lega will obtain the presidency of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region (northeast Italy), kicking FI’s Tondo out. But most of all, La Lega’s leader cashed in the guarantee he will remain the center-right’s PM candidate, with no strings attached. This means he will hold all the cards in the important days after Easter, both in case he manages to form a government and in case he does not — which is more likely.

They also agreed that an M5S MP will become speaker of the House, in spite of Giorgia Meloni’s doubts — she wanted the center-right to take the seat rather than leaving it to “leftwing” Roberto Fico, whose candidacy will surely be announced by the M5S later today.

There’s more news in the center-right’s joint press release. In order to agree not only on speaker roles but also on deputy-speakers, “center-right leaders invite representatives of other political forces to a joint meeting.” It should happen Thursday, because time is running out.

Gianni Letta (FI) had the idea during FI’s preparatory meeting ahead of the joint center-right one, also attended by Romani, Brunetta and Ghedini. Salvini did not like the idea. In a way, the initiative aims to find out whether the M5S would really be prepared to enter discussions with Silvio Berlusconi himself, but it ran the risk of giving the Democratic Party (PD) another shot after it had become isolated in the corner. But the PD itself already turned down the invitation: “We do not participate in meetings when the outcomes are already clear.”

In spite of Berlusconi’s saying he is “willing to discuss with the M5S,” negotiations on the Senate speaker and on possible government coalitions are still open — as Romani’s candidacy is the only official one thus far. Until Wednesday night, as it waited for a newly born ‘cabinet’ to get together again, the PD had not made a decision. But they would probably vote Romani for Italy’s second-highest office, as they had very good relations with him during the last legislature, and the move would cut out Di Maio.

It would be a stepping stone when Italy will need to agree on a government coalition. Nothing forces Italy’s president to ask the Senate speaker to coordinate negotiations to form a government, as the presidency made clear — but nothing forbids it either.

To Salvini, Romani’s candidacy is a trap. The League would not be afraid to pull the chair on FI during the first vote, or even to find an agreement with the M5S on one of FI’s likely other candidates, Anna Maria Bernini or Elisabetta Casellati. But before resorting to extreme methods that would pose a threat to the center-right’s unity, Salvini the mediator will try and convince Berlusconi to withdraw the nomination, which would destroy all ties with the M5S to build new ones with the PD. If Berlusconi refuses, it will be a longer day for Italy’s right.

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