Italy’s Next PM Might Not Keep the Job Very Long

Updated on
  • New government team may be announced as early as Monday
  • Gentiloni may not last long as Renzi seeks early elections

Monte Paschi Crisis More Serious than Expected: Elser

Italy’s premier-designate Paolo Gentiloni may end up just keeping the seat warm for his former boss, Matteo Renzi.

Gentiloni, 62, was given a mandate to lead a new government by President Sergio Mattarella after Renzi formally resigned following his defeat in a Dec. 4 referendum. Gentiloni, who was foreign minister in the Renzi government, is expected to report back to Mattarella as soon as Monday. None of this has stopped Renzi from planning a comeback.

While Renzi is Gentiloni’s chief sponsor, the newcomer is likely to face pressure to step aside in the first half of next year because Renzi wants early elections. The two-edged relationship prompted Luigi Di Maio, a leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, to call Gentiloni a Renzi “avatar.”

“A Gentiloni government would be an ambiguous one,” Giovanni Orsina, a professor of government at Rome’s Luiss-Guido Carli University, said in a phone interview. “It’s born as a caretaker government because Renzi wants early elections next year. Gentiloni is very close to Renzi but who knows what power could do -- Gentiloni might stay on until 2018.” The next scheduled elections are due in early 2018.

If he succeeds in drawing up a list of ministers, Gentiloni will be Italy’s fourth unelected premier -- after Mario Monti, Enrico Letta and Renzi himself. As leader of the country’s 64th government since World War II, he would make his international debut at the European Union summit in Brussels on Thursday.

Top priorities

Gentiloni’s priorities will be to change the electoral law, seek to boost weak economic growth, and tackle the troubled banking sector, Orsina said. “Gentiloni will be a competent premier, he is not flamboyant like Renzi but he has a lot of political experience,” Orsina said.

Gentiloni is expected to keep several ministers at their posts including Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan, whose priority now is Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA after the European Central Bank decided on Friday not to allow the lender to extend a deadline on a 5 billion-euro capital increase, triggering fears that the government crisis could hurt the troubled banking sector.

Monte Paschi’s board met on Sunday and decided to stick with the overhaul’s existing timeframe, which has a year-end deadline, the lender said in a statement. The bank aims to avoid a state rescue that would impose losses on bondholders and shareholders.

Mainstream parties want to change the electoral law because it is now different for each house, and gives an automatic majority to the leading party in the lower house. The parties fear a victory of Five Star, which wants a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro area.

Five Star Leads

An opinion poll by the IPSOS institute, published by newspaper Corriere della Sera on Sunday, credited Five Star with 31.5 percent of voting intentions, against 29.8 percent for Renzi and Gentiloni’s Democratic Party, known as PD.

A former communications minister and journalist, Gentiloni was Renzi’s top choice as successor and can count on the backing of the PD party, the biggest in parliament. Gentiloni noted that “not out of choice,” he would have to seek a government and a majority similar to the outgoing ones because the main opposition parties have refused to support a broad-based administration.

Renzi plans to call a Democratic Party congress early next year to confirm him as its leader, before he would stand as its candidate in early elections.

Even before Gentiloni was given his mandate, Renzi’s party set the clock ticking on his political survival. “For us, this government has an objective, to change the electoral law and to go to elections as soon as possible,” Ettore Rosato, the PD’s chief whip in the lower house, told newspaper Corriere on Sunday. “It will have to last a short time.”

Gentiloni’s commitments in future months would include Italy chairing the G7 group of wealthy nations from January, and an EU summit in late March marking the 60th anniversary of the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which led to the European Economic Community.

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