Mario Draghi’s gaze on Velázquez’s masterpiece, ‘Las Meninas’, was tired and elusive. The cameras captured the Italian prime minister on Wednesday sitting in the Prado Museum, alone, talking on the phone with a worried face while the rest of the leaders chatted between paintings and drinks. Perhaps the former president of the ECB already had his head set on yesterday’s Council of Ministers, decisive due to the threats of rupture by his two main coalition partners, the 5-Star Movement (M5E) and the far-right League. That is why he decided to leave the historic international meeting in Madrid ahead of time, delegating his Defense Minister, Lorenzo Guerini, and return to deal with the tensions within his Government.

One of the triggers of the umpteenth political crisis in Italy in recent years has been a phone call. The leader of the M5E and former prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, denounced yesterday that Draghi had asked the party’s founder, Beppe Grillo, for his head in a telephone conversation. “It seems to me sincerely serious that a technical prime minister, invested by us, interferes in the life of the political forces that support him,” criticized Conte, who, on the contrary, insisted before the media on his “loyal and constructive” continuity in the coalition. But the scandalous thing would have been the conversation that Conte had with the ‘premier’ before he assured in some statements that “the Government does not fall”.

“Because of the respect I have for the institutions and your role, I would not have publicly attacked you while you were busy at the NATO summit. But if it is true that you asked Grillo for my head, it is a very serious thing, not because of the attack staff that a technical prime minister has made me, but because the proper functioning of democratic institutions is at stake,” Conte reportedly snapped. And even more: “What game are you playing? If you want us out of the government, you have to tell me clearly.” Draghi listens, keeping at bay his discomfort at being hit with such a load of accusations and suspicions during a crucial international summit. He adamantly denies trying to “throw out” Conte, tells him “see you and talk tomorrow,” and tries to wrap up the incident. But the former prime minister is taking his time, allowing the risk of an irremediable break to float.

Conte is not the only one who has unleashed the storm against his coalition partners. Because on Wednesday, while Draghi closed the Madrid Summit with Biden, Macron, Scholz, Johnson and the rest of the NATO leaders, the leader of the League, Matteo Salvini, accused the left of “blowing up the government” by presenting, together with the Democratic Party (PD, centre-left), the parliamentary initiatives to approve bills to legalize cannabis and to give nationality to the children of immigrants who have been studying in the country for five years. Some measures that the extreme right opposes.

The biggest reproach for the attitude of the two parties came yesterday from the Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, who has just left the M5E causing a split that has deprived him of almost half of his parliamentary group. “For days, while the Italian government has been involved in important international summits, nothing has been done other than fueling tensions with debates and surreal statements that clearly threaten its continuity,” he lamented. And he added: “These dynamics run the sole risk of weakening Italy’s credibility, blurring the achievement of important goals such as the gas price cap, and causing us to lose the Recovery Plan funds.” According to Efe, Di Maio asked his partners to “put the interest” of the country first, above political struggles.

The Council of Ministers was convened yesterday to analyze budgetary measures aimed at containing the escalation in energy prices. But everything indicates that the bills and the alarm about the continuity of the Executive would be the causes behind Draghi’s (painful) choice to change the agenda and leave, after the first day, the very important Spanish summit on defense strategy after the aggression Russian to Ukraine.

The Italian government is going through these tensions a few months after the start of the electoral campaign for the general elections next spring and, although Draghi insists for the moment that his Executive “is not in danger”, the embarrassment is evident. “I am still optimistic, the Government is not at risk because the national interest is paramount for all our legislators and for all the forces that support this Government”, he defended during a press conference after the Council of Ministers.

The prime minister is convinced that the government will succeed, but neither Conte nor Salvini rule anything out. Now it seems clear that between the leader of the M5E and the leader of the League there is a race to see who breaks the national unity first. However, in the Palazzo Chigi they downplay it: “They have been threatening for 16 months, but nobody ever comes out.”

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