Robert HARNEIS -TDO- (FRANCE) - Italian Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the right-wing Lega Party, Matteo Salvini, yesterday called for a fresh general election after announcing that his party's coalition with the Five Star Movement has collapsed. However, for the government to be formally dissolved, a no confidence motion is needed and it is then up to the Italian President to decide the next steps. A recent opinion poll put Lega at nearly 39%.

The immediate cause of the break up is a dispute over the very expensive Lyons Turin rail link and tunnel between the two main members of the coalition the League, in favor, and the 5 Star movement against. A more fundamental reason is that the League has risen strongly in the poles and 5 Star have lost ground. Salvini hopes to form a new government in which he is no longer hindered by a strong coalition partner notably in his disagreements with the European Union.

The declaration by Salvini comes in the middle of the holiday season and has destabilized the markets. The difference between the interest rate on Italian and German 10 year bonds rose sharply to their highest level in a month.

Salvini argued that after 14 months the coalition was no longer operating effectively saying ‘We ought rapidly to return to the electors’, calling for parliament to be recalled from its holiday break to set the election in motion next week. Previously Salvini had insisted that the coalition would continue until the end of the normal five year parliamentary term.

‘Italy can no longer tolerate ‘No’s, we need ‘Yes’s, we must unblock things, build and work. That’s enough, we need elections’ he told journalists. He believes that the unusual coalition no longer works and is a break on economic growth and employment. But the calling of elections is within the powers of the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, who is no friend of Salvini and strongly pro-European. It also requires a vote of members of parliament.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, pointed out that the electoral calendar is not for the InteriorMinister Salvini to dictate, saying that he would have to explain his motives in calling for an election. As one of Salvini’s objectives would be to replace Conte as Prime Minister, this is not surprising. For his part Luigi di Maio, leader of the 5 Star Movement said that he was not afraid of facing the electorate.

It is not impossible that Salvini is bluffing. Italy has not held an election in the Autumn since the Second World War. President Mattarella and his friends in Brussels will be hoping that an election, if there is one, might bring a coalition to power that is less hostile to the EU. Equally Mattarella might try to appoint a government of pro-EU technocrats although this could risk a constitutional crisis with accusations of a Brussels dictatorship.

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