Italy's PM to address Parliament on latest coalition crisis

ROME (AP) — With his center-left government at risk of collapsing, Premier Giuseppe Conte will address the Italian Parliament on how he plans to deal with the political crisis triggered by a small coalition partner withdrawing its support.

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Conte told Italian President Sergio Mattarella in a meeting at the presidential palace Thursday that he intends to go before Parliament to lay out “the indispensable political clarification” about the crisis, the palace said in a statement. He is set to address lawmakers early next week, according to Italy's Senate.

Previous premiers have used such appearances during past government crises to announce their resignations.

The current situation results from former Premier Matteo Renzi removing his small centrist party from Conte's 16-month-old governing coalition on Wednesday. Renzi's move capped weeks of squabbling over how some 200 billion euros ($243 billion) in European Union funds should be spent to help Italy recover economically and socially from the COVID-19 pandemic.

As head of state, the president must decide if Conte or someone else can form an alternative coalition or if an early election is needed. Unless the officially non-partisan Conte can find enough pledges of support in Parliament, especially in the Senate, to replace votes that Renzi and 17 other senators from the ex-premier's Italy Alive party had provided, any bid to win a renewed vote of confidence in the upper house would appear doomed to fail.

Mattarella has repeatedly appealed for the country to come together during the pandemic, which has devastated Italy's long-stagnant economy.

Opinion surveys have indicated that right-wing opposition forces, including the euroskeptic League party led by former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and the Brothers of Italy, a rapidly growing far-right party with historic roots in neo-fascism, would triumph in an election held soon. If that scenario happens, Salvini, whose League was part of Conte's first government, could return to power.

Conte's main coalition partners are currently the center-left Democratic Party and the populist 5-Star Movement, which also was part of Conte's first government along with the League.