Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned on Tuesday after Interior Minister Matteo Salvini called for a confidence vote in the government.
Conte delivered a one-hour speech announcing his resignation, in which he called Salvini’s decision to end the coalition “reckless”, suggesting his actions are “liable to tip the country into a spiral of political uncertainty and financial instability”.
“He has shown that he is seeking personal interest and party’s interest”, Conte added.
Salvini, leader of the far-right League party, responded by renewing his call for elections, declaring that he “would do it all again”.
The coalition government had been formed of the far-right League party and the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement. Both parties won big in the March 2018 general election, which marked a significant populist shift in Italian politics. The League is known for its anti-immigration and Eurosceptic agenda, while the 5 Star Movement notably promotes a minimum monthly income for the poor and direct democracy, reducing parliament’s power by allowing members of the public to vote on laws.
After several months of difficult coalition talks, a deal was reached and the government was sworn in on June 1st 2018, with Conte, who is not a member of either party, taking on the helm of prime minister.
Although the government had been in place for just over a year before Conte’s resignation, its time in office was not without significant turbulence. Perhaps one of the most defining issues was the sparring with the EU over Italy’s spending plans. The economy took a hit as political uncertainty rose, with the EU unprecedently calling on an EU member state to revise its budget, referring to Italy’s increasing debt and plans for a wider deficit as harming economic growth.
The spending plans were eventually revised after Italy became the first EU member state to potentially face EU budget sanctions, after a European Commission report in June found that Italy’s high debt put it in breach of EU budgetary rules.
The League is also currently under investigation for allegedly receiving funds worth more than €1 billion from Moscow, after Buzzfeed reported that a Salvini aide met with Russian businessmen in October 2018.
Meanwhile, despite his party being the junior partner in the coalition, Salvini has emerged as a high-profile but controversial figure in Italian politics. Known for his hard anti-immigration rhetoric, after just 10 days in office as Interior Minister he refused port access to a recuse boat with over 600 migrants on board.
The increasing momentum of his far-right, populist party was highlighted in the May European elections, in which the League won over 34% of the vote.
While Salvini has called for fresh elections, this is not the inevitable way forward. President Sergio Mattarella will first try to install a new government, if a parliamentary majority for one can be reached. There are several possible scenarios, including a 5 Star-Democratic Party coalition, a centrist government, or even an interim technocratic government to pass crucial budget legislation before a general election is called later in the year.
Despite high poll ratings, Salvini may therefore not benefit from the fall of the government in the way he had hoped, instead being relegated to the opposition.