ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Mario Draghi brushed off concerns for his government’s survival on Thursday, a day after he returned early to Rome from the NATO summit in Madrid amid tensions boiling up among his key coalition allies.
"The government doesn't risk (collapse), because of national interests, because of the interests of Italians, which predominate,'' Draghi told an evening news conference. His remarks followed a Cabinet meeting of his nearly 1 1/2-old pandemic unity government, whose partners include populists, centrists, left-leaning and right-wing forces.
Draghi also expressed confidence that populist leader Giuseppe Conte, his predecessor in the premier's office, wouldn't yank his 5-Star Movement from the coalition. In a phone conversation on Wednesday, Conte “confirmed the (Movement's) intentions not to exit from the government.”
Conte had recently blasted Italy’s continuing to send military aid to Ukraine in the war launched by Russia.
Until last week, the 5-Stars was the largest party in Conte's government. Then, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, a powerful 5-Star figure, split from the party to form a new movement, after slamming Conte's reservations about military aid. That further strained the coalition's cohesion.
Amid the rising bickering, Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank who isn't a political leader, left the NATO summit Wednesday evening, a day before the gathering concluded.
Another coalition partner, the right-wing League, which has been a big booster of Russia, also has criticized sending weapons, saying that will only prolong the war.
But Draghi told reporters that neither the 5-Stars nor the League have indicated they want to bolt from his government. "Up to now, there has been no expression in this sense,'' the premier said.
Once again, Draghi publicly ruled out running for the premiership in the next legislature. Parliament's term runs out in spring 2023, further feeding nervousness among some government allies. Matteo Salvini's League party and Conte's 5-Stars have been trounced in recent local elections, and are sinking in opinion polls.
Fear of facing voters' judgment earlier than necessary could prompt parties to stick with the government.
Draghi vowed to forge ahead with his agenda, including dealing with soaring energy costs, in part fueled by the war in Ukraine. “I never thought of entering into internal questions of parties, of (political) movements, Draghi said.
Draghi's Cabinet extended relief for families and small businesses reeling under ever-higher utility bills. Without that 3-billion-euro ($3.15 billion) measure, “it would have been a disaster,'' with hikes as high as 45%, the premier said.
Also prompting his decision to cut out early from the NATO gathering, Draghi insisted, was the devastating drought in northern Italy, which has dried up rice paddies, shriveled grazing grass for cows and threatens summer harvests of fruit and vegetables.
On Monday, the premier said, the government will approve emergency aid plans for several parched Italian regions.
Frances D'emilio, The Associated Press