August 18, 2019

Italy’s Parliament Backs Rail Link as Nationalist League Party Comes Out on Top

Italy’s Parliament Backs Rail Link as Nationalist League Party Comes Out on Top


ROME — The construction of a high-speed rail link between Italy and France — an issue that threatened to splinter Italy’s governing coalition — survived a vote in Parliament on Wednesday. So did the coalition, though the nationalist League party came out clearly ahead of its governing partner, a weakened Five Star Movement.

“Those who vote ‘no’ are putting the government at risk,” Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, the interior minister and leader of the League, warned this week as he urged support for the 8.5-billion-euro infrastructure project connecting the Italian city of Turin with Lyon, France.

As is often the case these days, Mr. Salvini, whose base of voters in the country’s industrial north supports the project, came out the winner.

The vote on the project, known as the TAV, was nonbinding but politically meaningful.

The League has enthusiastically backed the TAV, citing jobs and other economic benefits it says the rail line will generate in the north. The Five Star Movement, which opposes the project, was founded in part on fighting the corruption and environmental damage it sees as endemic to large infrastructure projects.

For months, the coalition partners have argued with, and insulted, each other. But in the year since they took power, Five Star’s popularity and political leverage have plummeted, and the League’s have risen sharply.

Mr. Salvini has said repeatedly that the Five Star Movement’s objection to infrastructure projects could jeopardize the alliance, which has put Five Star’s political leader, Luigi Di Maio, in a bind. Mr. Di Maio has been desperate to avoid the collapse of the governing coalition because new elections would most likely force him from power — and force some of his party’s lawmakers from office.

But he could not be seen as supporting TAV, which a Five Star co-founder, Beppe Grillo, has described as “a crime against humanity.” In July, after months of stalling, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who is not officially aligned with either coalition partner but who is closer to the Five Star Movement, expressed support for the TAV.

Mr. Di Maio called for the symbolic vote just before Parliament’s summer recess to make it clear to his party’s dwindling base that he had done everything he could to stop the rail link.

Wednesday’s vote “settled a delicate topic,” said the political analyst Lorenzo Pregliasco, head of Quorum, a leading Italian polling firm. “Five Stars got what they wanted, which is a vote to show they still oppose the project. The League also got results because the infrastructure was approved. So everyone gets something.”

The TAV — 170 miles, or 270 kilometers, of railway running mostly through tunnels — has been under construction since 2011 and in the planning stages for decades before that.

Supporters believe it will provide a badly needed way to transport goods through Italy’s industrial northwest. They also argue that it is a good deal, with Italy’s taxpayers responsible for 35 percent of the cost. Forty percent is being paid by the European Union, with the remaining 25 percent by France.

Some analysts suggested Mr. Salvini was seeking a pretext to call for new elections as his popularity rises, along with his chances of leading Italy as prime minister. A defeat on Wednesday would have provided him with such an opportunity. But he won.

“The paradox of Salvini,” read a headline in this month’s Il Sole 24 Ore, Italy’s leading financial newspaper. “He wants the government crisis, but he doesn’t pull the plug.”

It was clear after Wednesday’s vote that liberal opponents of the government came out empty-handed.

Despite the Democratic Party’s traditional support for the high-speed rail project, some party members had advocated voting against it to deprive the League of the necessary votes and thus trigger a government collapse.

In the end, though, the Democrats voted with Mr. Salvini.

Unlike other recent threats of government collapse, which often seemed engineered as face-saving or distracting measures for either Mr. Di Maio and Mr. Salvini, the drama around Wednesday’s vote had a greater sense of urgency.

Members of Parliament shouted and booed during speeches, prompting the Senate president, Maria Elisabetta Casellati, to rebuke them for acting as if they were in a “nursery school.”

The vote means the government will most likely continue for months. And with the TAV issue apparently removed as a source of friction, analysts said, the coalition could go on much longer.



Source link

About The Author

World Media News delivers breaking news, headlines and top stories from business, politics, entertainment and more in the US and worldwide

Related posts

Leave a Reply

Translate »