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Letta Risks Losing Control as Berlusconi Splits Alliance

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
The process against former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi starts with the Sept. 9 meeting of the Senate’s parliamentary immunities committee, which will debate over multiple days about whether to put the matter before the upper house’s full chamber. Photographer: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta risks losing control of his parliamentary coalition as lawmakers argue over proceedings to strip ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi of his seat in the Senate.

The debate intensified yesterday and is splitting Letta’s alliance. In a closed-door meeting, lawmakers loyal to Berlusconi failed to convince their coalition partners to agree to slow down the expulsion debate, according to Mario Michele Giarrusso, an opposition senator present at the encounter. Berlusconi postponed plans to withdraw support from Letta and will re-evaluate next week, Corriere Della Sera reported today.

Letta, 47, has maintained cohesion in his four-month-old coalition of rivals by delaying key decisions and meeting the demands of Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party on tax policy and government personnel. While the premier has sidestepped comment on the ouster proceedings, lawmakers in his Democratic Party have refused to help protect Berlusconi’s seat.

“I would say we are in a red alert situation,” said Giovanni Orsina, a history professor at Luiss Guido Carli University in Rome. “The only possible compromise at the moment is getting more time to think about it.”

The benchmark FTSE MIB climbed 1 percent to 16,871.11 at 2:42 p.m. in Milan, while the broader Stoxx Europe 600 Index advanced 0.6 percent. Italian 10-year bond yields rose 1 basis points to 4.43 percent.

Government Survival

Letta said he was optimistic about the government’s survival in an interview in St. Petersburg late yesterday with Russia 24, the Ansa news agency reported. Letta, in Russia for the Group of 20 summit, met today with Russian President Vladimir Putin and leaders from Mexico, South Korea and Singapore.

Berlusconi, 76, faces potential expulsion from parliament because his conviction for tax fraud was rendered definitive by Italy’s top court last month. Democratic Party General Secretary Guglielmo Epifani reiterated yesterday that expulsion is required under a 2012 anti-corruption law, according to comments broadcast by SkyTG24. That reading has been disputed by People of Liberty, or PDL.

“You can’t but recognize that this law isn’t applicable,” Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi of the PDL said in an interview broadcast by SkyTG24.

Parliamentary Immunity

The process against Berlusconi starts with a Sept. 9 meeting of the Senate’s parliamentary immunities committee, which will debate over multiple days about whether to put the matter before the upper house’s full chamber. Representatives of the PDL sought time to evaluate options after that first appointment, while the Democratic Party pushed to schedule the second committee meeting on Sept. 10, Giarrusso of the Five Star Movement told reporters in Rome.

The second meeting will be set at the end of the Sept. 9 appointment, Senator Dario Stefano, chairman of the committee said today in a televised interview with SkyTG24.

“The committee can’t operate under political pressure,” Senator Stefania Pezzopane, a Democratic Party member and vice chairman of the committee, told reporters in Rome. “The committee must simply, honestly and seriously make sure that the law of the land is applied.”

The PDL, the second-biggest party in Letta’s alliance, claims the law is unconstitutional and shouldn’t be applied to the former premier, whose tax-fraud conviction dates to events in 2002 and 2003. The party is pushing for a Constitutional Court ruling on the matter.

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