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Posts tagged ‘Land of the Roman Empire’

Italy’s president to pols: make solid deal or elections soon

August 22, 2019

ROME (AP) — Italy’s president gave party leaders a few more days to try to forge a solid, durable governing coalition but served notice they must convince him soon they have found a formula for a new majority in Parliament or else he’ll call early elections.

President Sergio Mattarella made clear that only a government solid enough to win the required confidence vote in Parliament would be considered an acceptable way out of the knotty, weeks-long political crisis.

Otherwise, said Mattarella, “the path is that of elections.” Fast-rising nationalist leader Matteo Salvini yanked support for the governing 14-month-old populist coalition in a bid to come to power himself in fresh elections.

Mattarella, who is head of state, said he’ll start a fresh round of talks with party leaders on Tuesday so he can “reach my conclusions and take the necessary decisions.” He urged swiftness. “Political and economic uncertainties, on an international level, require it,” he said, also citing the European Union’s new leadership taking the helm this fall.

Mattarella didn’t say which parties had told him they were trying to reach a coalition deal. But Italian news reports said the negotiations involved arch-rivals: the opposition Democrats and the 5-Star Movement, which was the main partner in the now-caretaker government.

The Democrats confirmed that negotiations between the heads of the two parties were indeed underway, even though the 5-Stars were shying away from confirming that. Any such deal, if successful, could foil Deputy Premier Salvini, the euroskeptic leader of the right-wing League, in his bid to force early elections and become premier.

He wants to capitalize on his soaring popularity, including in May’s European Parliament vote. Premier Giuseppe Conte resigned on Tuesday after Salvini withdrew political support earlier this month. Since then, at Mattarella’s request, Conte is serving in a caretaker role.

To call new elections “is a decision not to be taken lightly, after more than a year of the legislature’s life,” Mattarella said. Parliament’s full term is five years, but in the volatile world of Italian politics rarely lasts that.

In rapid-fire order, the three main political parties pitched possible deals to rivals earlier Thursday. Parliament’s largest opposition party, the Democrats, signaled a willingness to work with the 5-Stars to attempt to cobble together a pro-Europe coalition to counter Salvini and avoid an early election.

Salvini, who also serves as Italy’s anti-migrant interior minister, kept up his press for early elections. But as a backstop against any deal between the Democrats and 5-Stars, Salvini dangled the possibility of a Cabinet overhaul that keeps his League party in a ruling coalition with the 5-Stars.

“If someone tells me ‘Let’s improve the team, let’s improve the aim,’ I’m a concrete man. I don’t hold grudges,” Salvini said. Barely an hour later, 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio, like Salvini a deputy premier, said that while “the most convenient path is to head to a vote,” he’d be open to a political deal to keep the current legislature alive. But he didn’t say with whom.

Earlier, Nicola Zingaretti, who leads the center-left Democrats, lobbied for the same solution as Di Maio: a coalition that could nail down durable, broad backing in Parliament. “Not a government at any cost,” Zingaretti told reporters at the palace. “We need a government that changes direction, an alternative to the right.”

Creating a viable replacement for Conte’s collapsed government will prove a Herculean task for anyone. Both the Democrats and the 5-Stars have been weakened by infighting — and over a year ago they failed to agree to a coalition deal after the 2018 election that ultimately brought Conte’s now-caretaker government to power.

Zingaretti said any new government must pledge to protect the “pro-European vocation” of Italy. The 5-Stars, however, frequently depict European Union policies as infringing on Italy’s autonomy. Mammoth state spending under Conte’s tenure, reflecting populist promises to voters by both the 5-Stars and the League, means whoever governs Italy for the rest of this year must slash tens of billions of euros from the proposed 2020 budget to avoid triggering higher sales taxes and other painful measures which could alienate voters.

Salvini with his “Italians first” agenda has openly challenged the EU’s financial rules for the 19 nations including Italy who use the shared euro currency. Former center-right leader Premier Silvio Berlusconi warned against any “improvised majority that exists only in Parliament and not in the country.”

The media mogul described his Forza Italia party — should it return to power in a right-wing government — as Italy’s best guarantee of having leaders that would back pro-European policies and make sure Italy does not abandon the euro currency.

Italian premier’s resignation could bring elections in fall

August 21, 2019

ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday amid the collapse of the 14-month-old populist government, raising the possibility of new elections in the fall that could bring to power the anti-migrant interior minister who engineered Conte’s downfall.

Addressing the Senate, Conte blasted Matteo Salvini for setting in motion a “dizzying spiral of political and financial instability” by essentially pulling the plug on the government. Salvini’s right-wing League party sought a no-confidence vote against Conte earlier this month, a stunningly bold move for the government’s junior coalition partner.

Conte blamed Salvini for sacrificing the government’s survival in favor of his eagerness to become premier himself. A lawyer with no political experience who was tapped to break a postelection stalemate last year, Conte struggled to hold together his often ideologically opposed coalition’s forces — Salvini’s right-wing League and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement. He handed his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella at the presidential palace Tuesday night.

Mattarella, who is head of state, asked Conte and the rest of the government to stay on in a caretaker role. The president could test if there’s enough support for a new government. Failing that, he might try to build a consensus to back a “neutral” figure to head a government whose main goal would be to lead the country through year’s end, enough time to make painful budget cuts to meet European Union parameters.

If no other path is feasible, Mattarella would have to dissolve Parliament. Elections could then be held as soon as late October — 3 ½ years ahead of schedule. Salvini, who sat next to Conte during his speech, smirking at times, declared, “I’d do it all again.” He repeatedly kissed a rosary he slipped out of his pocket right after Conte rebuked him for associating “political slogans with religious symbols.”

Pressing for elections as soon as possible, Salvini said: “I don’t fear Italians’ judgment.” Salvini’s party is soaring in opinion polls and triumphed in European Parliament elections in May. He’s intent on capitalizing on this popularity with national elections.

His crackdown on migrants, whom the party’s voter base largely blames for crime, appears to be a huge factor in Salvini’s climbing popularity. The interior minister has adopted especially harsh measures against private rescue boats, which he contends essentially facilitate human trafficking of migrants across the Mediterranean from smugglers’ bases in Libya to European shores.

Salvini insists that citizens are also behind his call for less influence by the European Union on everyday Italian life. Supporters at his rallies cheer his “Italians first” policies. Should any early elections sweep Salvini into power, financial markets could be rattled by his Euro-skepticism.

Depicting himself in counterpoint to Salvini’s often-derogatory depiction of European Union rules, Conte said he had “tried in these 14 months to guide Italy’s policy along the path of a critical pro-Europe line, but always oriented constructively.”

Analysts will be focused on prospects that any Salvini-led government could further fray Italy’s relation with Brussels. A League-led government would have a “stronger Euro-skeptic stand — fighting with Brussels on everything that is politically salient in Italy,” Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of London-based Teneo analyst firm, told The Associated Press.

The outgoing government enacted some populist measures, including the 5-Star Movement’s guaranteed minimum income to the jobless. Whoever holds the helm of government this fall, will have to slash spending, likely displeasing constituencies. Failure to do so would trigger another highly unpopular measure — an automatic increase of the sales tax.

Salvini is already campaigning for a slashed income tax, raising concerns about where a League-led government would find the money to deliver on that promise. While lawmakers argued, hundreds of kilometers (miles) to the south, the latest migrant standoff played out near a tiny Italian island. For weeks, more than 100 migrants had been stuck aboard a Spanish rescue ship and not allowed by Salvini to disembark at Lampedusa as part of his crusade against humanitarian rescue groups.

But hours after Conte resigned, the migrants finally set foot on Lampedusa. The Italian news agency ANSA said a Sicilian prosecutor ordered the seizure of the Open Arms rescue vessel and the migrants’ evacuation. Prosecutors are investigating the humanitarian group’s complaint against Salvini for alleged kidnapping for refusing to open the ports.

Former Premier Matteo Renzi, a leader of the Democrats, Parliament’s largest opposition party, seized on Salvini’s rosary display to blast the migrant crackdown. “Minister Salvini, I respect your religious faith,” Renzi said, launching into a barb that played off their common first name, Matteo. “But if you believe in Chapter 25 of the Gospel, naturally by Matthew, ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you dressed me,'” if you have these values, unblock those persons held hostage by your policies.”

Salvini has taken to dangling a rosary and invoking the protection of the Virgin Mary in political rallies around the country.

Associated Press Writer Giada Zampano contributed to this report.

Italy’s Salvini pushes for a new election over deadlocks

August 09, 2019

MILAN (AP) — Italy faced a government crisis Thursday after Interior Minister Matteo Salvini of the right-wing League party called for a new election, saying his party’s coalition with the populist 5-Star Movement had collapsed over policy differences.

Premier Giuseppe Conte said he would convene Parliament, as requested by Salvini to seek a confidence vote, but showed his anger over what he called Salvini’s move to “abruptly interrupt the actions of the government.” He urged Salvini to explain himself to voters.

The governing two parties have been at odds over a host of policy issues but tensions spiraled Wednesday after the Senate rejected a move by 5-Star to kill a EU-funded high-speed rail link with neighboring France. The big infrastructure project — known in Italy as TAV — is backed by the League and seeks to improve rail links across several European nations.

As tones hardened, Salvini met with Conte on Thursday. After the meeting, Salvini issued a statement saying the TAV vote clearly showed that the ruling coalition had collapsed and called for a speedy election.

“Let’s go immediately to the Parliament and verify that there is no longer a majority, as was evident in the vote on the TAV, and quickly return the word to voters,” Salvini said. If the government should lose a confidence vote, that could set the stage for a new election.

In remarks to journalists late Thursday, Conte chastized Salvini for urging lawmakers to interrupt their vacations for a speedy confidence vote. “It is not for the interior minister to decide the timing of a political crisis in which other institutional actors are involved,” the premier said.

Conte said he would be in touch with the speakers of both houses to work out when to convene Parliament. “I already clarified with Salvini during our meetings that this crisis that he triggered will be the moist transparent crisis in the history of the republic,” Conte said.

In the event of a vote of no-confidence, it would be up to Italy’s president to call a new election if he found no way of salvaging the government. Both the League and the 5-Star Movement have said they don’t want to see a government formed of non-political technocrats.

The timing of any election is critical, as Italy must submit a budget in the fall — and needs a working majority to work out terms. The EU’s third-largest economy barely dodged an EU budget disciplinary process over its rising debt levels this year.

The 5-Star leader, Luigi Di Maio, responded to Salvini’s statement by saying his populist party was ready to go to a new election. But while Salvini wants immediate vote, Di Maio sought to postpone it until after parliament gave its final approval to a reform reducing the number of lawmakers, a vote that had been scheduled for early September.

Earlier Thursday, the right-wing League issued a statement complaining of deadlock with the 5-Star Movement on a variety of issues, saying “it is useless to go on” adding that “the only alternative to this government” is for a new election.

The high-speed train vote laid bare the deep divisions in the Italy’s 14-month-old government, with the 5-Stars opposing the rail link as costly and unnecessary and the League supporting it as necessary for the economy and its core base of northern entrepreneurs.

After the vote, Salvini told supporters in the coastal town of Sabaudia “that something broke in the last months” in the governing coalition. Besides the high-speed rail-link, the League listed other areas of contention between the two parties, including fiscal policies, energy, justice reform, regional autonomy and relations with Europe.

In his comments Wednesday, Salvini noted that the 5-Star’s pet electoral promise, basic income, which the government passed, was a handout that did not create jobs. Salvini is coming off another victory this week with the passage of a new security law that fines humanitarian rescue ships up to 1 million euros ($1.1 million) if they enter Italian waters with migrants. Preventing such ships from docking has been Salvini’s hallmark as interior minister.

After approving a basic minimum income and reversing an unpopular pension reform, the government bogged down during the European election campaign and never appeared to regain its footing. Salvini’s anti-migrant, anti-NGO stance is credited with the League’s surge in popularity. After claiming just 17% of the vote in last year’s national election, the league won 34% in European elections this spring. Surveys put support for the party now at 38%.

The 5-Star Movement’s fortunes have sunk conversely, from nearly 33% of the vote in the national elections, giving it more seats in parliament than its partners, to just 17% in the European elections. Its support hovers at 17% currently.

Conte, who celebrated his 55th birthday Thursday, appeared bitter that his government experience appeared to be coming to an end, and took some swipes at Salvini, noting that the League is under investigation for allegedly taking funding from Russia and commenting on the League leader’s recent public appearances and press conferences on Italian beaches.

Most of all, he took issue with suggestions that the government was in a stalemate. “I will not allow the narrative of a government that doesn’t function. Of a government of ‘No.’ This government in reality has always spoken little, and worked a lot,” Conte said. “This government wasn’t at the beach every day, but in the institutional seats to work from morning to night with respect for Italians.”

U.S., Italian F-35As integrate for first time in Astral Knight exercise

by Ed Adamczyk

Washington (UPI)

Jun 7, 2019

The U.S. Air Force announced the completion of a large air-and-missile defense exercise, involving F-35A fighter planes, in Europe.

“Astral Knight 2019” was the first involvement of the planes in a large-scale multinational exercise. It focused on simulated defense of several key areas of terrain from cruise-missile and aircraft strikes. U.S. military forces worked closely with NATO coalition forces of Croatia, Italy and Slovenia at various locations across Europe, conducting operational and cyber scenarios.

The fifth-generation F-35A Lightning IIs and personnel were brought from Hill AFB, Utah, to Aviano Air Base, Italy, in May for exercises and to train with other Europe-based aircraft. The squadron includes the 388th and Reserve 419th and 421st Fighter Wings of the U.S. Air Force.

In a four-day exercise ending on Thursday, the Air Force flew eight sorties per day. For the first time, U.S. Air Force F-35As integrated operationally with Italian air force F-35As. They communicated with each other over the Multifunction Advanced Data Link, a system unique to the plane’s platform.

“It’s truly rewarding to see that we can leverage all the capabilities of the F-35A, which we have all been working toward,” said Lt. Col. Brad Klemesrud, 421st Fighter Wing Squadron deputy commander. “In an exercise this large and complex, you get the opportunity to see how theory meets reality and put into practice what’s only been on paper.”

The exercise, deemed a success, also tested the capabilities of maintenance teams.

“This is the first overseas location that the 421st AMU’s [Aircraft Mantenance Unit] F-35As has gone to,” said MSgt. John Ott, 421st AMU F-35A expediter. “Our duties include daily servicing and inspections, as well as logistics and coordination control to receive support on our aircraft and maintainers 24/7.”…

Source: Space Daily.


Italy slides into recession, darkening outlook for Europe

January 31, 2019

MILAN (AP) — Italy has fallen back into recession, intensifying concerns about the 19-country eurozone economy and a possible flare-up in the debt market jitters that haunted the bloc in recent years.

The Italian economy, the third-largest in the eurozone, contracted by a quarterly rate of 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018, the national statistics agency said. Following a 0.1 percent drop in the previous three-month period that means Italy is in a technical recession, defined as two straight quarters of economic contraction — just four years after its last one.

Italy’s recession is one reason why the wider eurozone slowed in 2018, along with uncertainties related to Brexit, the China-U.S. trade spat and new vehicle emissions standards. Though the eurozone is performing better than in the dark days of the debt crisis, which threatened to break up the euro currency, it’s still lagging the U.S. economy, which is projected to have grown about 3 percent in 2018. As a result, unemployment in the eurozone is about double the U.S.’s 4 percent at 7.9 percent.

The eurozone economy as a whole grew by a meager 0.2 percent in the final quarter, the same as in the previous quarter, according to provisional figures released Thursday by the Eurostat statistics agency.

It expanded by 1.8 percent in 2018 overall, its weakest rate in four years. That’s lower than had been anticipated a year ago, when the bloc was expected to slow only slightly from 2017’s strong 2.4 percent rate.

The Italian economy has become an acute source of concern over the past few months, partly as a result of the new populist government’s spat with the European Union’s executive Commission over its budget plans, which has undermined business confidence and seen Italian borrowing rates in bond markets spike higher.

The government, elected against the backdrop of economic disappointment after years — even decades — of stagnant growth, wants to ramp up spending to get the economy going. It wants to provide more social security payments and to roll back a pension reform.

The plan means Italy would not reduce its debt load, which at over 130 percent is the highest in Europe after Greece. The EU Commission is still haunted by the memory of the debt crisis, which required eurozone governments, along with some assistance from the International Monetary Fund, to bailout a number of countries. The Commission has insisted that the Italian government rein back on its spending plans lest it loses control of its budget and the faith of bond market investors.

Though most economists think the budget impasse with the Commission has undermined confidence in the Italian economy, the country’s premier, Giuseppe Conte, sought to downplay the recession and placed the blame firmly on the trade spat between the United States and China, which he says has weighed on Italian exports.

“This is a transitory factor,” he told reporters in Rome. The head of Italy’s UNC consumer advocate organization, Massimiliano Dona, said the weak figures raise questions over the Italian government’s prediction that the economy will grow by 1 percent in 2019. He said that could mean the government will have to adjust its spending plans.

Italy hasn’t been the only reason why the eurozone slowed in 2019. Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, suffered an unexpected contraction in the third quarter largely due to changes in emissions standards that hurt auto sales. And uncertainty over Britain’s exit from the EU has weighed on sentiment, as has the fear of a global trade war stoked largely by growing tensions between the United States and China.

Separate economic indicators point to further weakness at the start of 2019 and most economists expect a difficult period ahead if the main causes of uncertainty are not addressed soon. “The continued decline in sentiment indicates that the underlying pace of growth has slowed even further,” said Christoph Weil, an economist at Commerzbank. “Uncertainty about economic developments in China, the unresolved trade conflict between the U.S. and China and Brexit continue to weigh on the economic outlook for 2019.”

Pylas reported from London.

Italy: 5 EU nations will take in migrants stranded at sea

January 29, 2019

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte says five European Union nations are stepping forward to help resolve the latest impasse involving migrants stuck at sea on a humanitarian ship, but he bemoaned the lack of a systematic EU way to deal with migrant rescues.

Conte said Tuesday that the crisis over the Sea-Watch 3, which has been stuck off Sicily with 47 rescued migrants since Friday, demonstrates the EU’s “incapacity to manage this phenomenon with shared European mechanisms.” He spoke Tuesday in Cyprus at the close of a southern European summit.

But Conte said individual countries had stepped forward late Tuesday to say they would take some of the migrants. The Italian news agency ANSA, citing Conte, said the five countries are Germany, France, Portugal, Romania and Malta.

There was no immediate word on when or where the migrants, who were rescued Jan. 19 off the coast of Libya, would disembark. Conte was to meet with the leaders of Italy’s two governing coalition parties, including hard-line Interior Minister Matteo Salvini of the League party, upon his return to Rome.

Italy’s populist government has refused to allow humanitarian ships to dock in its ports in a bid to force its European partners to share the burden of arrivals. During the same press conference as Conte, French President Emmanuel Macron said France abided by three principals: respect for humanitarian rights in maritime matters, disembarkation at the nearest port and distributing the migrants. He said these standards should become a permanent mechanism.

Conte also said an EU trust fund aimed at propping up African economies to stem the flow of migrants isn’t large enough. Echoing Conte, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said it’s an “absolute necessity” for Europe to boost Africa’s economic development.

The Dutch-flagged Sea Watch 3, which is operated by a German humanitarian group, was allowed into Italian waters late last week off the Sicilian port of Syracuse due to deteriorating weather conditions.

Human rights activists and some politicians have denounced Italy’s refusal to allow the migrants to land as inhumane. “The psychological conditions of these people is worsening quickly. They need to get immediate medical attention on land,” EU lawmaker Cecile Kyenge told Sky TG24.

Earlier Tuesday, Europe’s human rights court denied a request by the head of the Sea Watch group, the Sea Watch 3’s captain and one of the migrants to disembark the 47 migrants. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, however requested in its decision that Italy “take all necessary measures as soon as possible” to give the migrants adequate medical care, food, water and supplies. And it said the 15 unaccompanied minors on the boat should receive legal guardianship.

Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli claimed on Twitter that the human rights court had sided with Italy. “We must guarantee the migrants food, treatment and adequate assistance. And that is what we are doing. But we don’t have an obligation to disembark,” he said.

In another similar instance, Salvini faces possible charges for failing to allow 177 migrants to disembark at a port in Catania in August. Prosecutors have declined to press charges for kidnapping and abuse of office, saying Salvini was enacting government policy beyond the scope of the courts. But a judicial review body ruled otherwise, and has asked the Senate, where Salvini has a seat, to allow the case to procced.

The migrants in that case were allowed to disembark after five days.

Barry reported from Milan. Angela Charlton in Paris also contributed.

Italy sends socks, shoes, food to migrants stuck on boat

January 27, 2019

ROME (AP) — The Italian coast guard is bringing socks, shoes, bread and fruit to 47 migrants who have been stranded at sea for nine days aboard a German humanitarian group’s rescue boat close to the Italian island of Sicily.

Italy’s hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini, refuses to let humanitarian boats that rescue migrants in the Mediterranean from smugglers’ unseaworthy vessels disembark because he contends the aid facilitates trafficking.

Sea-Watch 3 rescued the migrants on Jan. 19 in the waters off Libya. On Sunday, three Italian opposition lawmakers and the mayor of nearby Syracuse boarded Sea-Watch3, which is a mile offshore, to inspect conditions.

Italian news agency ANSA quoted Syracuse prosecutor Fabio Scavone as saying the captain had requested psychological assistance for those aboard but added there wasn’t any medical emergency.

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