By Susy Hodges
Giusppe Conte survived the vote by 156 to 140 with 16 abstentions, having overcome a similar confidence motion in the lower house of parliament on Monday.
Had he lost, he would have had to resign, pushing Italy into more political turmoil and potentially opening the way to new national elections, two years ahead of schedule.
The crisis began when the small Italia Viva party, headed by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, abandoned the cabinet in a row over Conte’s handling of the pandemic and economic recession. It abstained in Tuesday’s vote, leaving the door open for a possible return to the coalition if its policy demands are met.
In his speech to senators, Conte accused Renzi’s party of having created chaos by persistently making demands that were clearly divisive. The prime minister promised to revamp his policy agenda, saying he wanted to modernize Italy and speed up implementation of a post-Covid economic recovery plan funded by the EU. Despite his promises, only two members of the opposition centre-right Forza Italia party switched sides on Tuesday while a number of unaligned politicians who had come under heavy pressure to help the government, ended up voting against Conte.
In his speech in the Senate, Renzi told Conte to make bolder reforms, saying Italy is wasting its biggest opportunity since the Marshall plan. This was a reference to the U.S. aid package for Europe following the end of World War Two. Renzi is calling for investment in the digital economy and green energy and rejects Conte’s plan to let technocrats, rather than lawmakers, decide spending priorities.
Italy has had plenty of minority governments before but history has shown they risk collapse at any divisive vote in parliament. The outcome of this confidence vote means Conte’s coalition is badly weakened at a time when the country is struggling with unprecedented challenges.