Italy Is Back on the Political Precipice

Karl Maier
Italy Is Back on the Political Precipice

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Italy’s rickety government faces the prospect of collapse yet again, with right-wing opposition politician Matteo Salvini ready to pounce.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte canceled his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos today, with any hope of projecting a business-as-usual image in tatters.

The main party in his ruling alliance — the anti-establishment Five Star Movement — was rocked by Luigi Di Maio’s resignation as its leader, while Salvini’s League is poised to score big gains in a key regional election on Sunday.

As John Follain reports, Conte is holding urgent meetings in Rome before a cabinet gathering this evening, while Five Star girds itself for a bruising succession fight that could further destabilize the government.

Yet Conte has an ace up his sleeve: the government’s very fragility. Its key members know that if they fail to hold the administration together, there will be snap elections they would surely lose.

Opinion polls say Salvini’s League would win a national vote, signaling a sharp turn to the right that much of Europe, already dealing with the U.K.’s Brexit and trade tensions with the U.S., would rather not contemplate now.

Salvini is not assured of winning power — yet. He overreached in the summer when he broke up the last government only to be left out of the current one. And however much support his party enjoys, one politician is more popular than him: Giuseppe Conte.

Global Headlines

Trying times | House impeachment managers set out their case for removing President Donald Trump from office in the Senate trial by depicting him as vindictive, untruthful, unbound by the law and willing to abuse his power at the expense of U.S. national security. They will resume arguments today, seeking to persuade moderate Republicans that they should subpoena witnesses such as former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Senators acting as jurors can drink either milk or water while in the chamber during the trial — and nothing else.

Global flashpoint | The eastern Mediterranean is a strategic but fraught region at the confluence of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The delicate balance of power is being upset by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s claims on rights over lucrative hydrocarbons following a contentious maritime deal struck with Libya. The jostling is evidence of a vacuum opening up as a result of U.S. disengagement, with Turkey and Russia attempting to take its place.

Moving on | Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal cleared its final hurdles in parliament for the U.K. to leave the European Union on Jan. 31, ending a crisis that paralyzed politics for several years. Britain remains bound by EU law in 2020 while it negotiates a new trade deal with Europe. That’s the “first priority,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid told U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin yesterday. “I thought we’d go first,” said a “disappointed” Mnuchin.

Damage done | The claim that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in hacking Amazon boss Jeff Bezos’s phone refocuses attention on the young leader as he seeks a more positive global spotlight. Sylvia Westall and Donna Abu-Nasr report on potential damage to Saudi Arabia’s image as it prepares to host dozens of events showcasing the prince’s efforts to transform the kingdom’s economy and lure billions in foreign investment.

China and Greta | China is conducting a “war against pollution,” with some positive results. But unlike the rest of the world, where activism as exemplified by Greta Thunberg is a key driver of the environmental agenda, China frowns upon actions not involving the state. The result is a paradox: President Xi Jinping champions the anti-pollution cause, but restrictions on civil society leave little room for open criticism of government policy.

What to Watch

Trump will become the first sitting U.S. president tomorrow to address the anti-abortion March for Life in person as he courts conservative voters before the November elections. While Angela Merkel has little time to reset Germany’s economy before her term ends, she appears more focused on challenges on Europe’s doorstep such as Libya and Iran, subjects she’ll probably emphasize when she speaks in Davos today. Chinese officials moved to halt travel from Wuhan, essentially locking down a city of 11 million people, as they try to stop the spread of a new SARS-like virus that’s already killed 17 and infected hundreds. The International Court of Justice ordered Myanmar to take emergency measures to prevent genocide against its minority Muslim Rohingya population.

Tell us how we’re doing or what we’re missing at balancepower@bloomberg.net. And sign up for Bloomberg Green, our new daily digest of climate news and insights on the latest in science, environmental impacts, zero-emission tech and green finance.

And finally … Thailand’s ubiquitous street food vendors are wondering how they will cope with a new law that bans single-use plastic bags. While customers love buying cheap snacks and hot soup, Thailand generates more than 5,000 metric tons of plastic trash each day and some ends up spoiling its beautiful beaches. Authorities are clamping down on bags first, plastic straws by 2022 and aim to recycle all remaining plastic packaging by 2027.

 

--With assistance from Kathleen Hunter.

To contact the author of this story: Karl Maier in Rome at kmaier2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Halpin at thalpin5@bloomberg.net, Michael WinfreyRosalind Mathieson

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