Why Did Italy’s Prime Minister Resign?

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Earlier this week, Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte tendered his resignation. Conte’s resignation follows a gradually-brewing Italian government crisis, one fueled by differences between two Italian political groups that previously worked together.

In Italy’s 2018 elections, one of these parties, the Five Star Movement, received twice as many votes as the other party, the League. The Five Star Movement, which Conte led prior to his resignation, continued to enjoy this popularity until Conte paused a long-developing railway project that would connect the Italian city of Turin with the French city of Lyon. The project has been in the works for two decades, and before the Five Star Movement stepped in to pause the project, it was scheduled to reach completion in 2025.

Although this railway would halve the time it takes to travel between the two cities, it could potentially inflict great harm on the environment and place the Italian government in debt, so the Five Star Movement has opposed it. The EU has offered to fund as much as 40 percent of the total cost for building the railway.

The League, on the other hand, is among the railway’s most ardent supporters. The party has stated that the railway would create enough jobs to offset the money spent on its creation. Additionally, the League has suggested that shifting freight between Italy and France from the road to the railway would offset the environmental damage that building the railway would inflict. Commuters and travelers would also experience a drastic reduction in the travel time between Paris and the Italian city of Milan, with the railway cutting the current seven hours it takes to travel between the cities to merely four.

The railway conflict may not be the only factor driving the League to wage political war with the Five Star Movement. Although the latter party earned twice as many votes as the former in last year’s elections, polls this year have shown that the public would now vote in exactly the opposite way. Some say that key League politician Matteo Salvini has used the railway conflict as a pretense for forcing the Italian government into a situation where citizens, whose opinion currently favors the League by a wide margin, would have to recast their votes.

Salvini ended the alliance between the League and the Five Star Movement on August 8. Since then, the Italian economy has spiraled into instability, a condition so extreme that Salvini could call for early elections with far less opposition than in times of greater stability. Such a snap election would occur in early October, three years earlier than Italy would normally hold its next round of major national elections.

If preliminary polls favoring the League turn out to be accurate, then Salvini could replace Conte as prime minister. Salvini could further strengthen his party’s influence on Italian politics by allying with the far-right group Fratelli d’Italia and the center-right Forza Italia. The Five Star Movement, on the other hand, is said to be considering allying with Italy’s center-left Democratic Party, setting the stage for a major shift in the Italian government’s composition.

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