The missiles that rained down on Syria barely had any impact on the Italian political crisis, nor did they accelerate the negotiations toward a solution. The international tension is being used for party positioning and perhaps to settle the score on some issues. And the military action will probably play a role in the president’s imminent decision to create a government, since it creates the need for Italy to take an international stance.
Berlusconi and Salvini insist the political uncertainty must be resolved soon, but that’s just them talking. In fact, there has been little movement, and even the hypothetical meeting between the Lega and 5 Star Movement (M5S) leaders in Verona — where both are going for the Vinitaly wine fair — was denied by the M5S.
Saturday morning, a few hours after the attack, rumors spread that President Mattarella would seek to speed things up. This is not true. The agenda and the strategy remain those set after the second round of consultations. Mattarella will wait until Wednesday morning, or maybe just a little earlier. He might appoint someone on Tuesday night, with a very defined mandate.
The Syria strikes did not change the candidates, either: Salvini, Di Maio, Casellati (President of the Senate) and Fico (President of the Chamber of Deputies). If one of the two self-proclaimed winners of the election is chosen, it will be more like a punishment than a reward. Whoever it is will not have a majority and will have to admit he didn’t really win.
If the president decides to “pre-appoint” a politician, it will probably be Salvini. Not just because he enjoys a broader consensus in Parliament, but also because — although the Quirinale Palace (the President of the Republic’s Office) would never admit it — today he is seen as more of a threat than Di Maio. Brussels fears him, as is already well known. Salvini’s reactions to the bombing in the Middle East confirmed that. “Somebody is a bit too trigger happy about smart missiles,” he said. “It’s crazy, stop.”
Di Maio has been much more reassuring: “We remain close to our allies. I think the EU needs to be seen as compact and united.” Music to Mattarella’s ears, who had hoped to hear such declarations after expressing his concerns during the last round of consultations.
If Di Maio is using the crisis to promote his own legitimacy, Berlusconi is using it to scold his Lega ally: “In these situations it’s probably better not to say anything.” And he didn’t stop there. In Molise, he told voters that if Salvini gets more votes than him in the next regional election, it will be an apocalypse: Salvini will be even more strengthened on the national stage, and markets will be alarmed. He’s exaggerating because he’s campaigning. But the attack had already begun with the ousting of ‘populists’ from Berlusconi’s broadcast company Mediaset, which shut down the programs of journalists accused of not siding with the mogul: Belpietro, Giordano and Del Debbio.
Salvini responded in kind: “I don’t understand Di Battista and I don’t understand Berlusconi. They put themselves on equal footing. Stop insulting, vetoing, seeking revenge.” But the coalition holds — preventing Mattarella to take matters into his own hands.
If the president opts for one of the two leaders of Parliament, it will almost certainly be Forza Italia’s Elisabetta Casellati in order not to infuriate Salvini with a hostile choice. She is the president of the Senate, and Saturday she said that she would be ready. President of the Chamber Roberto Fico might come into the picture when it’s time to propose a candidate.
That will be the moment of the crisis. Mattarella knows he can count on the PD and Forza Italia, but also knows that Salvini could drag his feet, as he promised Saturday: “Some — including PD and Forza Italia — dream of making large coalitions with everyone. I refuse to even think of any government that involves the PD.” Without the Lega, Di Maio too could deny his support, even though he appears the more responsible of the two. Even if the candidate is his M5S colleague Fico, that would be very hard.