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Could Italy's new coalition be stymied by Salvini's grip on parliament?

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Could Italy's new coalition be stymied by Salvini's grip on parliament?
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REUTERS
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Italy's prime minister Giuseppe Conte said on Sunday he expected to finalise talks over a new government by Wednesday, as the Five-Star Movement and the Democratic Party (DP) held intense talks during the weekend to try and work out a deal and decide Cabinet posts.

Conte described the "political mood" between Five-Star and DP as "good".

"It will be on Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest," he said in a video interview during a conference organised by Il Fatto Quotidiano newspaper, when asked when he would report back to Italian President Sergio Mattarella with a programme for the new government.

"Obviously I am confident on a positive outcome." he added.

If the DP and Five-Star are unable to seal a deal by this week, Mattarella is expected to dissolve parliament and set a date for a new vote.

Senior figures from both parties have been speaking positively about the potential coalition.

"I know it is difficult, but we're doing our best to give this country a new government," PD leader Nicola Zingaretti said on Sunday in a video post on Twitter.

Even if Italy’s Five Star Movement can form a new coalition government with the DP, its power might be curbed by Matteo Salvini’s League which keeps control of 11 powerful legislative committees until next spring.

The far-right League heads five key committees in the Chamber of Deputies (finance; transport and telecommunications; environment and public infrastructure; industry and employment) and six in the Senate (justice; constitutional affairs; education; agriculture; finance and treasury; defence).

The presidents of these committees cannot be changed until half-way through the parliamentary term and must serve for a minimum term of two years.

Salvini's economic advisor, Claudio Borghi, is President of the Finance Committee — a decisive one for the efforts of the new government to draft Italy's budget for 2020 and freeze a hike in VAT.

On July 18, Borghi tweeted: "I remind those who are dreaming alternative governments that the presidents of committees don't decay. Good luck.”

Committee presidents can make the life of the new government hard by simply applying parliamentary rules. They can slow the legislative process by blocking or accepting amendment requests; they decide how long parliamentary sessions should be and hold votes without a majority present in the chamber; they can nominate rapporteurs on individual bills; and they can even sink bills whose structure is judged to be weak.

However, M5S and DP hold the majority of Deputies and Senators within the committees.

Daniele De Bernardi, a political analyst at the watchdog OpenPolis, thinks boycotting behaviours will be unlikely as committee presidencies are a very institutional role that should not be political. "This situation is not new in Italian politics and usually parliament efforts don't get blocked,” he said.

“The president would have to be really unfair,” he told Euronews. “Even if the scenario is theoretically possible, it would be seen as a massive foul play. Yet, something could happen in those committees in which the new majority is weaker. For sure, the two League presidents of the financial committees could be a problem when discussing the budget law for 2020.”

M5S’s Michele Sodano is a member of the Chamber of Deputies' financial committee. He believes the League would not dare "to block the country”.

“They are simply making noise as they are losing importance after Salvini's own goal, but it would be a really childish move", Sodano told Euronews. "In the presidency office of each committee we schedule sessions and discussions, it is always a team work.”

Standard parliamentary committees have 14 members in the Chamber of Deputies and 14 in the Senate; on top of that, there are more specialised committees, some of them bicameral.

One of the League's talking points during this political crisis has been that DP and M5S are only interested in parliamentary seats. The DP is now firing back with the same argument. Salvini responded that "in a normal country we would have gone to new elections, now all of a sudden they are all interested in the presidency of committees.”

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