Former premier Matteo Renzi, a central figure in an Italian government crisis, will meet the head of state on Thursday and tell him whether he is ready to support a new government headed by caretaker Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
Renzi triggered Conte's resignation this week when he pulled his Italia Viva party out of the ruling coalition, depriving it of a majority in the upper house Senate and throwing the country into political limbo in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
The crisis is worrying Rome's partners and hampering its efforts to put together a recovery plan needed to obtain more than 200 billion euros ($242 billion) of European Union financing to rebuild its coronavirus-battered economy.
Renzi, whose tiny party has less than 3% of voter support, has accused Conte of lacking a strategic vision, saying he risked squandering the unprecedented EU bonanza on hand-outs rather than long-term investments.
Conte has no desire to patch things up with the man who unseated him, especially as any reconciliation would come at the price of a new policy agenda more to Renzi's liking.
But the caretaker prime minister's options are dwindling as he has so far had no success in luring unaligned and opposition senators to the government's ranks to restore his majority.
Renzi will meet president Sergio Mattarella at 5:30 p.m. local time (1630 GMT) as part of the head of state's formal consultations with party chiefs to try to resolve the crisis.
EU URGES QUICK RESOLUTION
Playing his cards close to his chest, Renzi has said so far that he has no veto on Conte returning, while attacking his handling of the economy and the COVID-19 emergency.
On Wednesday he called Conte's bid to replace Italia Viva with senators from the centre-right ranks "a scandal," making it hard for the premier to accept a resurrection of the previous coalition without appearing humbled.
Conte, a lawyer with no direct political affiliation, needs to find up to 10 senators to rebuild a workable majority.
Both the main ruling parties the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) say they will ask Mattarella to give Conte a new mandate, but they seem unable to guarantee him a majority in both houses of parliament.
In this case, the president may designate another candidate to try to form a government to manage the Recovery Fund from the European Union in the hope that they can command more parliamentary backing than Conte.
Dissolving parliament and calling elections two years ahead of schedule would be Mattarella's last resort.
After Renzi's visit, a PD delegation will meet Mattarella at 6:30 p.m., while the consultations will end with 5-Star on Friday.
EU budget commissioner Johannes Hahn this week urged Italy to rapidly solve its crisis.
"If its politicians were to be distracted by an election campaign they couldn't concentrate on what the country needs," he told La Stampa newspaper.
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