The increase in military spending fractures the Italian Government | International
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The seismograph of Italian politics had not registered movements for many weeks. The constant crises of the transalpine government have taken a backseat in the midst of the conflict in Ukraine. But, precisely, on account of the military spending agreed within NATO as a result of this war, an important gap has been opened again in the Council of Ministers that threatens to provoke the first great crisis of the year. The 5 Star Movement (M5S) now threatens to vote this Thursday in the Senate against increasing the Defense item to 2% of GDP, as the Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, has already announced. It is about complying with the guidelines agreed upon in NATO, set for a maximum of 2024. But the leader of the M5S has assured that this objective is not a priority for the Italians and threatens to fracture the majority of the Government. The Executive has decided this Wednesday to submit the approval of the decree to a matter of confidence.
The M5S is the party with the highest parliamentary representation in the Italian Unity Executive. Giuseppe Conte, its leader, lost in day-to-day politics since he took charge of the populist party, is now trying to regain his profile by opposing the approval of this decree. The problem is that his own political story does not accompany him. The former prime minister spent more on weapons than the current head of government – in 2021 there was a 17% increase in public investment in that item compared to 2018 – but polls indicate that Italians do not want to invest that money now in defense and prefer to deal with other priorities. “An increase in military spending now would be improper. Our security does not depend on 10 or 14 billion euros more. We will continue to discuss this,” Conte said after meeting Draghi in Rome on Tuesday.
The crickets, in need of a boost in the polls, point out in public that these resources should be used to curb the rise in energy prices or to health investments. But privately, many of them recognize that there is a political strategy behind a refusal that could cause a government crisis. “It is a complicated issue and there is no unanimity within the party either. But it is clear that the move goes beyond the content of the decree, ”says an M5S deputy. Indeed, military spending is not found in the Ukraine Decree approved by the Executive, and should be rejected through other mechanisms. The party currently has 13% in voting intention in the polls, just over 20 points less than the result obtained in the March 2018 elections. Conte, moreover, has not managed to gain control of the party and its leadership it is called into question in every political movement that strikes.
The Leader’s Threat cricket It caused enormous discomfort in the current prime minister, who left immediately afterwards to explain the situation to the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella. In the Chigi palace, seat of the Executive, they assure that he did it because the head of state is also the head of the armed forces and, in addition, he is the guarantor of the international agreements assumed by Italy. The same sources show some discomfort about a maneuver that they consider to lack substance (10 European countries have already achieved the goal in 2021). “Italy has a commitment to gradually bring military spending to 2% of GDP. A tour carried out by all the presidents of the Council. Last year Draghi did it with the same degree of increase. That is why the prime minister has said that the international commitments made by Italy cannot be questioned. Discussing them again puts the coalition pact at risk”, sources from the Presidency of the Council of Ministers point out to this newspaper.
The Government has decided to submit the measure, which will be voted on Thursday in the Senate, to a motion of confidence. A parliamentary mechanism that allows measuring the solidity of the Executive and of the majority that makes it up. In the event of opposing votes, a political crisis would open up at a time of extreme volatility for Italy. Something that, at least from the outside, has been highly criticized by the leader of the Democratic Party, Enrico Letta. “Italy would stun the whole world if it opened a government crisis right now. It would be detrimental to us, to all of us. And it would be tremendously negative for the peace process and for those who suffer from the war. We work to prevent it.” The Executive, in no case, could fall at this time, just when the budget law is being designed and Italy is trying to find a solution to the energy crisis by assuming a more relevant role in the Ukrainian crisis.
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Draghi had, precisely on Wednesday afternoon, a telephone conversation with the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, which lasted about an hour. The Russian president explained to the Italian the reasons why Moscow has made the decision to charge for its gas in rubles and assured him that this will not affect European companies, according to the Kremlin. The two leaders discussed the steps taken in the peace negotiations in Istanbul. Draghi stressed “the importance of establishing a ceasefire as soon as possible to protect the civilian population and support the negotiating effort,” according to Italian government sources.
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