Italy’s prime minister rules out ‘grand coalition’ with Silvio Berlusconi

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    Paolo Gentiloni says Italy's centre-left will not govern alongside the centre-right. Photo: Andrea Solaro/AFP

    Paolo Gentiloni, Italy’s centre-left prime minister, said his party would not consider governing alongside Silvio Berlusconi’s alliance of centrists and the far-right after a general election in March.

    “The answer is no,” Gentiloni told CNBC on Wednesday when asked if the Democratic Party would consider a so-called grand coalition with the centre-right.

    Speaking in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Gentiloni said that he hoped the centre-left would win a majority in the March 4th vote – a possibility that looks more and more remote according to opinion polls, which have Berlusconi’s bloc leading but still falling short of the numbers needed to govern alone.

    Most analysts predict a hung parliament, which means that every faction would likely need extra support from its non-traditional allies to form a government.

    “In any case, I think we will be the pillar of a possible coalition in our country,” said Gentiloni, who is not running for another term. “I think that... the populist, anti-EU position will not prevail.”

    He was referring to Berlusconi’s coalition partners, the Northern League and Brothers of Italy, both of which are further to the right than Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. Although the former prime minister’s party is the largest in the alliance, he has struggled to rein in his junior partners – especially the far-right Northern League, which continues to push an anti-euro, anti-migration agenda that is occasionally at odds with Berlusconi’s more moderate message.

    Gentiloni told CNBC that the cracks in the right’s alliance would only widen.

    He added that politicians were “totally wrong and not responsible” to use migration as “a diffusion of anger, fear and division”. Yet, he said, it would be a mistake for the Democratic Party – which has been in power throughout Italy’s migration crisis – to underestimate the issue’s importance to voters.

    “We have to be very careful in multiplying our efforts to reduce migration flows, and to transform them from totally irregular to regular,” he said.

    Migration continues to be one of the major talking points of the campaign, with the Northern League promising to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants and put “Italians first”.  

    Gentiloni also dismissed the prospects of a Five Star Movement (M5S) government, despite the fact that the anti-establishment group has been polling consistently higher than any other single party. 

    “I think that the Five Star Movement is frequently raising the right questions, but giving horribly wrong answers,” the prime minister said. “I have respect for those voting them, because it is, in some way, a form of reaction to corruption, to inequalities... But, with the numbers that we have now, and with the idea of this movement to have a government on its own, we will never have this kind of government.”

    The M5S has always said it would never make a deal with any other party in order to govern, though its 2018 candidate for prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, has been less categoric on the matter.

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