The rapprochement between Berlusconi and the ruling coalition proceeds

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In the week inaugurated by Head of State Sergio Mattarella’s call for unity amongst Italian political forces to get out of the pandemic crisis, the theme of our analysis could only concern the ongoing rapprochement between Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia (FI) party and the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Recently, Berlusconi returned to offer support to the executive in Parliament on budgetary plan and measures to deal with the health emergency, saying that he is already available to back the new budget deviation that will be voted on next week on Thursday, Nov. 26.

Despite the decline of recent years, Italy’s former Premier leads a party that is still relevant in the political balance of power and in parliamentary power relations as well. The hypothesis of a collaboration with the ruling majority has received the applause of several prominent exponents of center-left Democratic Party and in part also of Prime Minister Conte. The move is explained by Berlusconi’s will to recover a share of his ancient political centrality after a recent past lived behind the shadow of allied far right and populist parties.

Still, it is impossible not to notice that the rapprochement goes hand in hand with the adoption of the amendment to the Covid decree voted in the Senate, which attributes to communication watchdog AGCOM a surveillance power to protect pluralism in communications at the time of French Vivendi’s attempt to take over Berlusconi’s Mediaset. If critics argue that the norm would be a form of government compensation to Berlusconi for a softer political-parliamentary opposition, the same Minister of Economic Development Stefano Patuanelli was quick to clarify that the amendment protects an Italian company and its employees at the time of the country’s greatest socio-economic fragility.

The political repercussions of the potential Forza Italia-ruling majority dialogue were not long in coming, starting with the frictions that exploded blatantly within the center-right coalition. The League immediately went into fibrillation because it feels its pre-eminent role in the opposition threatened and senses the danger of being further marginalized now that a crucial event such as the election of the President of the Republic looms on the horizon. Matteo Salvini accused Berlusconi of “messing up” with the enemy, then publicly praised public prosecutor Nicola Gratteri for the arrest of the regional leader of Forza Italia in Calabria Domenico Tallini and finally gave his blessing to the passage of three FI MPs in the League ranks.

At the same time, there are the fears nurtured by Prime Minister Conte on the fact that, although useful, the dialogue with Berlusconi might materialize the feared government reshuffle – evoked several times in recent months but then always thwarted – with the ultimate risk of questioning even his top role at Palazzo Chigi. Moreover, the uncertainty of the political moment is such that even the protagonists of the operation do not have clear ideas about where they can actually get. On paper, the rules of engagement are clear: no enlargement of the perimeter of the ruling coalition but simple support to the economic measures of the budget law by Berlusconi’s FI. In this regard the populist M5S has split once again between purists who invoke parliamentary self-sufficiency and realists who realize that without an external support the numbers of the ruling majority are at risk in Parliament.

Finally, for the Democratic Party, involving Forza Italia in the painful choices that will be made over the next few weeks could mean being able to mitigate their political cost in terms of popular support. Especially when one reflects on the fact that the PD is the only party in the ruling coalition with “constituencies” on the territory and in Italy’s productive categories to answer for the choices made by the government.