Italy’s Draghi dismisses fears that his coalition may fold

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ROME (Reuters) – Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi brushed aside concerns over the survival of his government on Thursday, a day after he returned early to Rome from the NATO summit in Madrid amid rising tensions between his main allies from Coalition.

“The government is not in danger (of collapsing), because of national interests, because of the interests of the Italians, who predominate,” Draghi told an evening news conference. His remarks followed a Cabinet meeting of nearly a year-and-a-half-old pandemic unity government, whose partners include populists, centrists, left and right wing forces.

Draghi also expressed confidence that populist leader Giuseppe Conte, his predecessor in the prime minister’s office, would not withdraw his 5 Star Movement from the coalition. During a telephone conversation on Wednesday, Conte “confirmed the intentions (of the Movement) not to leave the government”.

Conte had recently criticized Italy for continuing to send military aid to Ukraine in the war launched by Russia.

Until last week, the 5 stars were the largest party in the Conte government. Then Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, a powerful 5-star figure, split from the party to form a new movement, after castigating Conte’s reservations about military aid. This further strained the cohesion of the coalition.

Amid growing feuds, Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief who is not a political leader, walked out of the NATO summit on Wednesday night, a day before the rally was due to end.

Another coalition partner, the Right-wing League, which has been a big defender of Russia, also criticized the arms shipment, saying it would only prolong the war.

But Draghi told reporters that neither the 5 Stars nor the League had indicated they wanted to quit his government. “So far there has been no expression to that effect,” the prime minister said.

Once again, Draghi has publicly ruled out running for prime minister in the next legislature. Parliament’s term ends in the spring of 2023, further fueling the nervousness of some government allies. Matteo Salvini’s Ligue party and Conte’s 5 stars were beaten in recent local elections and are sinking in opinion polls.

Fear of facing voter judgment sooner than necessary could tempt parties to stay with the government.

Draghi pledged to move forward with his agenda, including handling soaring energy costs, fueled in part by the war in Ukraine. “I never thought of getting into internal issues of parties, of (political) movements,” Draghi said.

Draghi’s cabinet provided relief to families and small businesses struggling with mounting utility bills. Without this measure of 3 billion euros (3.15 billion dollars), “it would have been a disaster”, with increases of up to 45%, said the Prime Minister.

Draghi also insisted that the devastating drought in northern Italy has dried up rice paddies, shrunken pasture grass for cows and threatened summer harvests of fruits and vegetables.

On Monday, the prime minister said, the government will approve emergency aid plans for several parched Italian regions.

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