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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Italy's president summons another economist amid political crisis

Former IMF official called to presidential palace amid speculation he could be asked to form government

Economist Carlo Cottarelli gets into a taxi to go to the Quirinale Presidential Palace in Rome on May 28, 2018 after Italian President Sergio Mattarella summoned him amid speculation the former International Monetary Fund official would be asked to form a technical government. Angelo Carconi / ANSA via AP
Economist Carlo Cottarelli gets into a taxi to go to the Quirinale Presidential Palace in Rome on May 28, 2018 after Italian President Sergio Mattarella summoned him amid speculation the former International Monetary Fund official would be asked to form a technical government. Angelo Carconi / ANSA via AP

Italy's president invited economist Carlo Cottarelli to the presidential palace on Monday amid speculation he would ask the former International Monetary Fund official to form a technical government following the collapse of what would have been western Europe's first populist government.

President Sergio Mattarella scuttled the 5-Star Movement and League's bid to form a eurosceptic coalition government by vetoing their choice for economy minister on Sunday night. The move created a new round of political uncertainty in a country long used to political turnover and raised the possibility of another election within months.

Mr Mattarella's office announced he had summoned Mr Cottarelli for consultations on Monday morning.

Markets have largely welcomed Mr Mattarella's decision to reject Paolo Savona as economy minister. Mr Savona, a former industry minister, has questioned whether Italy should ditch the euro as its currency.

The president's veto enraged both League leader Matteo Salvini and the 5-Star's Luigi Di Maio, who threatened to start impeachment proceedings against him.

Mr Mattarella, however, took pains to explain that he was within his constitutional right and duty to reject Mr Savona as economy minister, saying he had repeatedly asked for a minister who would not be perceived as entertaining Italy's exit from the euro.

"Sticking with the euro is a fundamentally important choice for our country and our young people," Mr Mattarella said in a late-night statement at the Qurinale Palace. "If you want to discuss it, it should have been done openly and with a serious debate," which he noted had not been part of the electoral campaign.

Mr Cottarelli, for his part, is an economist who assisted a former centre-left government in slashing public spending.

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A technical government will still be subject to votes of confidence in both houses of parliament, and the 5-Star Movement and League made clear Mr Cottarelli would not have their support.

In an interview with Radio Capital on Monday, Mr Salvini questioned who would vote for him. Mr Mattarella "didn't give the centre-right the chance to form a government because we didn't have the votes, and now Mr Cottarelli arrives without any votes? It seems a stretch," the League leader said.

Mr Salvini also warned former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi against supporting a Cottarelli government. In a statement late on Sunday, the three-time premier took a much more measured tone about the collapse of the 5-Star-League experiment, refusing to criticise Mr Mattarella.

Mr Berlusconi had never endorsed the populist attempt at government, but had not impeded it either. He has as much to gain from a new election as the League, which has only risen in popularity in the weeks since the March 4 election resulted in a hung parliament.

The vote gave the centre-right alliance of the League, Mr Berlusconi's Forza Italia and a smaller party 37 per cent, while 5-Star took 32 per cent.

Mr Salvini warned Mr Berlusconi that the alliance would collapse if Forza Italia voted for Mr Cottarelli.

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