Italy Premier’s Senate Lobbying Has Berlusconi’s Party Worried

Silvio Berlusconi’s party is concerned it will lose senators to a recruitment drive by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who’s courting the group in a bid to salvage his coalition.

The center-right Forza Italia party of ex-premier Berlusconi worries that three or more senators could succumb to appeals from Conte’s camp, according to lawmakers who declined to be named discussing confidential talks. They said the premier is also approaching centrists and unaffiliated members of the upper house.

Conte is under pressure from allies to fill the gap left by the defection of Matteo Renzi’s Italy Alive party. The premier only narrowly won a confidence vote in the Senate on Tuesday, falling short of an absolute majority, and faces another key vote in the upper house next week.

He’s trying to stabilize his governing coalition so that he can focus on fighting the pandemic and reviving the economy. The European Central Bank on Thursday signaled the bloc is heading back into recession and in the evening Conte joined a video call where European Union leaders discussed tougher measures to fight the rising rate of infections.

Conte called a cabinet meeting for late Thursday night, which was expected to discuss the premier giving up control of the secret services, a measure Renzi among others had urged him to consider, newswire Ansa reported.

The Forza Italia senators who may rally behind Conte see the party as too subservient to opposition partner Matteo Salvini of the anti-migrant League, the biggest force in the center-right bloc, the senior officials said. Berlusconi’s party is credited with only 7% support in opinion polls, against the League’s 24%.

The officials said Conte has been offering posts among other favors, possibly splitting up existing ministries to create more positions. The potential defectors are playing a waiting game, and would move as a group instead of individually to avoid facing too much personal criticism, the officials said.

Wednesday Vote

Senator Maria Virginia Tiraboschi, cited by Italian media as a potential defector, ruled out abandoning Forza Italia. “It is not possible that I join the coalition,” Tiraboschi told Bloomberg, criticizing its approach on the European Union’s recovery package.

Tiraboschi has been much courted during the political impasse. “Many people have called me, I can’t say who. Very authoritative people,” she said.

Some members of Renzi’s party could choose to return to the center-left Democratic Party, the second-biggest force in the coalition. Ex-premier Renzi led a faction out of the Democrats to form Italy Alive in September 2019, shortly after Conte forged his second government.

The prime minister faces key votes in both houses of parliament, likely on Wednesday, after Renzi pledged to oppose the government on motions to be put forward by Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede. Losing those ballots would trigger pressure on Conte to resign, officials said. He won the Senate confidence vote earlier this week partly thanks to Renzi’s party abstaining.

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