Italy center-left tries for deal as parliament meets

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 14, 2013 4:37 PM
Italy center-left tries for deal as parliament meets

By James Mackenzie

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's center-left alliance made a final bid for an accord with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement on Thursday as the divided political parties prepared for their first encounter in parliament since last month's deadlocked election.

The parties have so far failed to find a way out of the stalemate created by the election, which left the center-left with a majority in the lower house but without the numbers to control the Senate and form a government.

Attempts by center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani to reach an agreement with Beppe Grillo's 5-Star Movement have been rebuffed and he has ruled out any deal with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose center-right bloc is the second-biggest force in parliament.

On Thursday, center-left officials acknowledged that the offers to cooperate had been rejected but repeated that the center-left was prepared to reach a deal over filling the seats of the speakers of the Lower House and Senate, who play a big role in setting the agenda of parliamentary business.

The new parliament sits for the first time on Friday to choose the speakers, a complicated process involving repeated rounds of voting that will set parties the first concrete test of their ability to work together.

"Tomorrow, we'll cast an empty ballot for the first rounds to show our readiness to reach an agreement until the last possible moment," Enrico Letta, deputy leader of the center-left Democratic Party said in a tweet late on Thursday.

Behind the arcane parliamentary maneuvers is a clear signal from the center-left that it is prepared to support a 5-Star Movement candidate as speaker of one of the houses of parliament as part of a wider accord that could let it enter government.

The fiery Grillo has vowed not to support any government not led by his own movement in a confidence vote although he has said that it would be prepared to support individual pieces of legislation.

However on Thursday, he appeared to give short shrift to the PD's efforts to strike a deal, sending a tweet warning against the "siren calls" of other parties.


President Giorgio Napolitano is due to begin consultations with the political parties on March 19 but there has been no sign of any workable compromise between the three main blocs in parliament.

Business leaders, bankers, foreign heads of government and international officials have all expressed hopes that Italy can find a solution to the stalemate and form a government capable of the kind of reforms needed to lift its stagnant economy.

If it cannot, an early return to the polls is the likely alternative, bringing further uncertainty and the threat of a renewed bout of financial market turmoil following the crisis that brought down the last Berlusconi government in 2011.

Berlusconi, confined to hospital for almost a week by eye problems, met officials from his People of Freedom party in the San Raffaele clinic in Milan to discuss the center-right's approach to Friday's vote.

With the center-left able to dictate the outcome in the Lower House, the battle for the speaker's seat in the Senate will be key.

The speaker of the Senate is the second highest office of state after the President of the Republic and there has been widespread speculation that the center-left could try to reach an agreement with Prime Minister Mario Monti's centrist bloc.

That could potentially leave Berlusconi isolated ahead of the next major test facing parliament, electing a replacement for Napolitano, whose term ends on May 15.

(Reporting By James Mackenzie; Editing by Michael Roddy)