Berlusconi's party in danger of dividing amid crisis
30 Senators reportedly ready to form breakaway group01 October, 16:46
Several members of the PdL, including the ministers who quit, have expressed reservations about the wisdom of causing a government crisis just as Italy is showing signs of emerging from its longest recession in over two decades. Deputy Premier and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, the PdL secretary, said Sunday that he may become a "different sort of Berlusconi-ite" if the party becomes "extremist". ANSA sources said Tuesday that a group of around 30 PdL Senators could form a breakaway group and vote in favour of a confidence motion in the government that Letta is likely to call after speaking in parliament on Wednesday. One PdL Senator, former minister Carlo Giovanardi, said there were over 40 centre-right lawmakers willing to back the government.
Letta's frequently fractious Democratic Party (PD) looked united for once, with the centre-left group saying it was behind the premier's drive to clarify the situation in parliament. The aim of the breakaway centre-right group, which would be called PdL-PPE, would be to make it possible for the current administration to continue until 2015. Letta needs at least 20 Senators from other parties to support his coalition in a confidence vote for the government to survive. The PPE is the Italian acronym for the European People's Party (EPP), the centre-right bloc the PdL belongs to in the European Parliament. According to some reports, Letta will tell parliament that he will only go on if the lawmakers supporting the executive are willing to separate Berlusconi's legal problems from government business. Berlusconi is furious that his foes-turned-alliance-partners in the PD are intent on voting in favour of him being ejected from parliament on a Senate panel and then on the floor of the Upper House following the tax-fraud verdict.
Alfano reportedly spoke to Berlusconi late on Monday and said he was ready to leave the PdL along with the other outgoing ministers as he was unhappy at the decision to vote against a confidence motion in Letta's fragile government, which was cobbled together in April to end two months of deadlock after February's general election failed to produce a clear winner. Another senior PdL figure, the party's former Lower House whip Fabrizio Cicchitto, said Tuesday that the decision to withdraw the party's ministers from government was a mistake.
"After what happened yesterday, with the business world, the EPP, the trade associations and unions asking us to stay in the government, I hope we correct the political error we made by withdrawing the ministers," Cicchitto said.
Berlusconi, who turned 77 on Sunday, said he considered the "government experience over" at a meeting with the PdL's lawmakers on Monday at which he gave a monologue and did not allow a debate.
He is calling for parliament to be dissolved and fresh elections held once the government has passed several economic measures he considers crucial, including the ratification of the rolling back of an unpopular property tax call IMU.
The PD has said Berlusconi is in no position to dictate conditions after causing the crisis.
Several PdL members have said they may not join Berlusconi's revamped party, which is taking its former name, Forza Italia, and is replacing the PdL.
Pressure to keep Letta's government afloat also came from outside Italy Tuesday. "I don't want to interfere in Italian politics but at the same time we have to be aware that a lot is at stake for the whole EU," European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn told ANSA. "The recovery is fragile and would suffer from the continual political instability with risks not just for Italy, but the whole eurozone".
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said the instability risked scuppering Italy's recovery.
European Parliament Speaker Martin Schulz said he feared "enormous turbulence in the political arena and on the financial markets" if the government collapses.
The German added that any PdL lawmakers who voted confidence in the executive on Wednesday would "not be traitors or heroes, but responsible people". The tension has been heightened by a furore caused by allegations Berlusconi made in a private conversation that President Giorgio Napolitano meddled in a court case that culminated with a fine of close to 500 million euros for the ex-premier's holding company. On Monday a show on La7 television channel broadcast leaks of a conversation in which Berlusconi said he had been told that Napolitano had contacted Italy's supreme court and exerted influence so that the outcome of its ruling would be even more negative for Berlusconi. The case regards the supreme court's order for Berlusconi's Fininvest holding company to pay 494 million euros to a rival company in a bid to acquire publisher Mondadori over two decades ago because a judge presiding over the takeover was bribed.
Napolitano issued a statement that called the allegation "another delirious, vulgar, slanderous invention". The row will not endear Berlusconi to Napolitano, who has a key role to play in the government crisis. If Letta's executive fails to win a confidence vote in parliament on Wednesday, it will be up to the president to decide whether to dissolve parliament for new elections, as Berlusconi is demanding, or give someone a mandate to try to form a new government.