The Complex Calculus to Decide Italy’s Next Premier

Italians go to the polls on March 4 with voters divided over the country’s relationship with the European Union, taxes and immigration. Here’s your daily guide to the latest news.

The governing Democratic Party was trailing in third place when the polling blackout began on Feb. 17. But as John Follain explains, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni could still be in line for another term. 

With the populist Five Star Movement and Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right coalition both projected to fall short of a majority, the country’s next leader could be a consensus builder like Gentiloni. 

Five days before the vote though, Berlusconi is still pushing his preferred candidate, EU Parliament President Antonio Tajani (Berlusconi himself is barred from public office until next year). The 81-year-old former premier told Rai Radio 1 that his alliance will win the outright majority required to take control. 

Populist leader Luigi Di Maio is backing away from his pledge to avoid post-election deals – realizing that it pretty much ends his chances of governing. The Five Star candidate told Corriere della Sera on Tuesday that he will offer the other parties a “contract” for reforms including tax cuts and increased benefits for families and pensioners if his party comes first. 

Gentiloni, Di Maio and Tajani. Photographs: Bloomberg

The idea of an establishment figure like Gentiloni or Tajani governing has seen markets shrug off fears about political gridlock or a populist revolt. But Aleksandra Gjorgievska and Chiara Remondini have spoken to investors who think the consensus is getting complacent.

No sign of retreat from the PD’s Matteo Renzi, even though he’s been eclipsed by Gentiloni and seen his party slump in the polls. He told Sky News “there will be no step backwards” if he loses, a sign he intends to cling on to leadership of the party.

Quote of the day:
“Salvini is only pro-European when he gets his salary at the end of the month. The people on his committee don’t even know what he looks like.” Parliament Speaker Laura Boldrini questions Northern League Leader Matteo Salvini’s commitment to his role as a European lawmaker

The banking sector should be ok, regardless of the election results, according to Fabrizio Pagani, chief of staff at the Economy and Finance Ministry. He told Bloomberg Television that the saga of Italian non-performing loans is over, though he said more consolidation is needed.

Confused about Five Star? You’re not alone. John Follain and Chiara Albanese have taken a look at the party’s roots, its objectives and its chances of forming a government.

Who is tweeting: Berlusconi is attacking Five Star again and taking credit for Italy’s train network – on a day when snow led to to massive delays. The Northern League’s Matteo Salvini points out that Rome’s Five Star Mayor Virginia Raggi was at a conference in Mexico as her city struggled to deal with Monday’s snow.

Italian newspapers were dominated by coverage of the freak weather across much of the country, and the transport chaos it caused.

In case you missed it, Silvio Berlusconi’s career has had more acts than Madame Butterfly, Di Maio wishes he hadn’t ruled out leading a coalition, and can you spot the difference between Berlusconi and Donal Trump? It’s harder than you might expect. 

— With assistance by John Follain

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