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Five-Star War in Rome: Russia question shakes Italy’s government

Prime Minister Draghi is trying to re-establish Italy on the international stage. However, the violent confrontation within the Five Star Movement could dangerously thwart his plan.

If you look at the foreign policies of Germany, France and Italy since Russia attacked Ukraine, you could say that Berlin, Paris and Rome have shared the tasks. Accordingly, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron would be more concerned with diplomatic solutions, including dialogue with countries outside the EU such as Turkey; Prime Minister Mario Draghi, on the other hand, is more concerned with the economic consequences of the war. It’s just a guess, but one that would be understandable given the international reputation enjoyed by the former European Central Bank governor. In Italy, at any rate, this thesis has adherents.

It is said in the Italian media that during the train journey to Kyiv with Scholz and Macron, Draghi particularly talked to the Chancellor in order to persuade him to agree to one of his most important demands on the EU. There is talk of a “price cap”, a Europe-wide cap on the purchase price for gas, because the current prices would not only strangle the economy and consumers in Europe, Draghi concludes, but also guarantee Putin enormous income – income that the Kremlin boss in turn allow gas supplies to Europe to be cut, as recently to Germany and Italy.

The Five-Stars screw up Draghi’s plans

Since taking office in February 2021, Draghi has been trying to bring Italy back onto the international stage as a credible partner. In his first speech in the Italian Senate, he warned – addressed to all parties in his broad and motley coalition – that Italy remains “firmly anchored in the EU” and also sees itself as a “protagonist of the Atlantic alliance”.

But one of the governing parties could screw up his endeavour. This time it is not about the right-wing populist Lega boss Matteo Salvini, who is constantly campaigning. This time it’s the Five Star Movement. And in a way that calls into question the stability of the government and thus the credibility of the country.

Di Maio under pressure in his party

A power struggle has broken out in the Five Star Movement between ex-Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte – who is now the head of the party – and former Five Star Chairman and current Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio. Conte, whose political leadership still seems fickle to this day, has decided to give himself legroom in foreign policy. For weeks he has been drumming against further arms deliveries to Ukraine. He demanded that Draghi let the Senate vote on further arms deliveries today, although these were already approved by decree in March and by both chambers of parliament until the end of 2022.

On the other hand, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Di Maio has become an increasingly outspoken supporter of the NATO and EU course. A few days ago he called Conte’s position “anti-Atlantic”. On Sunday evening, therefore, there was a hastily convened meeting of the National Council of the Movement. After hours of debating, he decided not to throw Di Maio out of the movement, at least for the time being.

The strongest fraction would currently be 11 percent

All of this could be taken for internal skirmishes if it weren’t for the war and its social and economic consequences and Italy’s political stability. The financial markets also seem to be worried about the latter, as shown by the interest rate differential between Italian and German government bonds, which has increased recently.

According to surveys, the Five Star Movement is now just over 11 percent. Nevertheless, she never tires of emphasizing that she is the strongest group in Parliament. In fact, she received a good 32 percent in the March 2018 elections. And that’s why the internal disputes cannot just be dismissed as skirmishes. Because a split in the movement is likely to herald the end of Draghi’s governing coalition.

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