Italy President Meeting Draws Grillo to Government Talks

Beppe Grillo, the ex-comic and anti-austerity crusader, is being drawn into talks over the formation of an Italian government after three weeks in which the country’s political vacuum gave his influence room to grow.

Grillo and other leaders of his Five Star Movement arrived shortly after 9 a.m. at the presidential palace in Rome for their turn with President Giorgio Napolitano, who is seeking to build consensus in a divided parliament.

The grizzled entertainer, who punctuated campaign speeches with jokes and profanity, has kept his distance from rivals even as they adjust their programs to win his backing. Grillo will be asked once more to submit to an alliance during his meeting with Napolitano.

“He will behave properly, but he will say no,” said Giovanni Orsina, a history professor at Luiss Guido Carli University in Rome.

Napolitano, 87, is sounding out Grillo on the last day of consultations aimed at picking a replacement for Prime Minister Mario Monti. The president needs a compromise with some combination of the top four political forces to secure a majority in both houses of parliament. After meeting Grillo, he will speak with former Premier Silvio Berlusconi and Pier Luigi Bersani, who controls the largest number of lawmakers.

Reaching Outside

Italy is under pressure to come up with an administration as borrowing costs rise and the crisis in Cyprus renews speculation on a euro breakup. Napolitano, whose seven-year term ends in May, turned to academia the last time Italy needed a premier. In November 2011, he appointed Monti, then president of Milan’s Bocconi University, with a mandate to tame the deficit and shield Italy from the debt crisis.

Napolitano is preparing a limited agenda for a new government should Bersani fail to muster the needed support and may offer a leader acceptable to Grillo the post of premier, newspaper La Repubblica reported today, without citing anyone. The five-point program would focus on reducing the costs of politics, dealing with European affairs, reimbursing companies owed money by the government, boosting employment and revamping the election law, the newspaper said.

Grasso, Cancellieri

Possible leaders include Pietro Grasso, the country’s top anti-mafia prosecutor who was elected speaker of the Senate last week, Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri, Bank of Italy Director General Fabrizio Saccomanni, former European Union commissioner Emma Bonino, and Valerio Onida, former president of Italy’s Constitutional Court.

This time with a deepening recession and fractured base of voters, Napolitano needs a government capable of stimulating the economy and reforming the electoral law to make it easier for one party to garner a majority in parliament. The president met yesterday with the speakers of the two houses of parliament and leaders of smaller parties.

“We need to be able to respond to those who want to drag the country into a never-ending election campaign,” Nichi Vendola, an ally of Bersani’s and leader of the Left, Ecology and Freedom party, said after meeting Napolitano.

Grillo’s Surge

Grillo’s program, which calls for a repudiation of Monti’s tax increases and a reduction in lawmaker salaries and privileges, proved popular. His party, which had no presence in the last legislature, overturned the balance of power that defined Italy’s parliament since 1994 and by winning a quarter of the votes in the inconclusive Feb. 24-25 general election.

Grillo’s influence has been on display since the vote as his rivals tear up their campaign programs and formulate new plans. Bersani, 61, reversed his previous commitment to budget rigor and vowed to slash the cost of politics. Senate Speaker Grasso and his counterpart in the Chamber of Deputies, Laura Boldrini, said this week they would take 30 percent pay cuts and impose savings measures on other officials.

“We need to give the country an innovative and courageous government capable of taking on issues like the cost of politics and reforming the state,” Andrea Olivero, representative of Monti’s Civic Choice party, said yesterday after his appointment with Napolitano.

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