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LATEST: Mario Draghi on the brink as Italy’s government faces collapse

ROME – Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi is facing a crucial vote of confidence, amid growing signs that he will fail to win enough support from right-wing parties to carry on leading the government.

In a speech on Wednesday, Draghi indicated he was willing to stay on as prime minister if his feuding coalition partners could guarantee “sincere and concrete support” for him to continue.

A confidence vote will be held later on Wednesday to test whether lawmakers back him to remain in office. On the face of it, that vote will be challenging for Draghi to win.

If he loses, Draghi will likely resign, leading to an early election that would plunge Italy into months of upheaval. The right-wing parties would be expected to win and take power as part of a coalition with the opposition Brothers of Italy.

The departure of the 74 year-old former President of the European Central Bank would also deprive the EU of one of its most experienced leaders at a critical moment, with inflation soaring and war raging on its doorstep.

Wednesday’s voting marks the culmination of a crisis that has been brewing for months, as tensions built between Italy’s increasingly fractious coalition partners ahead of elections scheduled for next year.

ITALY NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

After a meeting between Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the center-right Forza Italia, and Matteo Salvini, leader of the hard-right League, at Berlusconi’s villa in Rome on Wednesday, the two right-wing parties put forward conditions of their own for backing Draghi.

They agreed to support him only if the new government excludes the 5Star Movement – something Draghi has previously said he would not accept. They also demanded the removal of Health Minister Roberto Speranza and Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese, who the League sees as weak on handling of the pandemic and immigration. They said that they would not take part in the confidence vote on Draghi’s motion.

These demands would be very difficult for Draghi to accommodate. He has said he would not lead a government that excluded 5Stars. Without them, the balance in the coalition would shift to the right and Draghi sees his mandate as leading a government of national unity.

But some of the lawmakers in both parties are likely to rebel to support Draghi, as are some of the 5Star Movement.

Draghi offered to resign last week after the 5Star Movement boycotted a critical confidence vote. But after President Sergio Mattarella rejected his resignation, Draghi agreed to make a last-ditch attempt to save the coalition.

He said in his speech to the Senate on Wednesday that he would be willing to stay on as Italian prime minister, but only if there was support for his program of EU-mandated reforms and policies from his coalition partners.

He criticized the parties, which he said had manifested “growing difference and division” in recent months, and cited their opposition to various proposed laws as evidence that that the governing majority “has been ground down on its program of modernizing the country.”

The two right-wing parties in his coalition appeared to be surprised and irritated by the tone and content of Draghi’s speech.

Massimo Bitonci, a League lawmaker, said his party were “stupefied” by Draghi’s remarks. He claimed that Draghi had not referenced policies supported by the League, such as a flat tax rate in his proposed agenda.

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