Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte met President Sergio Mattarella for talks on Thursday, fuelling speculation that tensions within the country’s ruling coalition could lead to its collapse or a cabinet reshuffle.
Relations between the two coalition partners — the rightwing League and anti-establishment Five Star movement — deteriorated on Wednesday after Five Star voted against a motion on the trans-Alpine high-speed rail link with France, a project which is supported by the League.
At a late night rally in the coastal town of Sabaudia, League leader Matteo Salvini said that “something has broken” in the government in the past few months. He added: “I’m not one for half measures; either we can do things fully and well or I am not one who clings on to his seat.”
Italian media reported that he had held talks with Mr Conte on Thursday and demanded a reshuffle by Monday or he would dissolve the government.
Mr Salvini’s office denied that he had demanded the scalps of any Five Star ministers, saying: “We are not asking for any new ministries. We are not interested in reshuffles.”
Cabinet ministers who have displeased Mr Salvini include the finance minister Giovanni Tria, as well as Danilo Toninelli and Elisabetta Trenta. He sees all three ministers as obstructing him, especially Mr Tria who has been reluctant to include Mr Salvini’s tax cut proposals in his budget plans.
Mr Salvini and fellow deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio cancelled appointments on Thursday. Mr Conte cancelled a press conference on Thursday morning before going to the Qurinale, the president’s office, where he stayed for about an hour.
The government has been divided in recent weeks over proposed tax cuts by the League, greater regional autonomy and Five Star’s decision to back a mainstream German candidate, Ursula von der Leyen, to become president of the European Commission.
Mr Salvini said before Wednesday’s vote that if the high-speed rail project were blocked he would consider early elections. He is understood to be under pressure from his team to act before the Italian parliament’s summer shutdown.
After the vote League whip Massimiliano Romeo told Five Star that “there will be political consequences”.
Opposition MPs claimed that the government’s days were numbered. “The government’s majority no longer exists,” said Andrea Marcucci, a senator for the Democratic party.