By Isla Binnie
ROME (Reuters) – Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Thursday called for politicians to act responsibly as they jockey to form a government after the inconclusive March 4 election.
Mattarella, who is usually limited to a ceremonial role but must now step into the political ring and broker a deal between rival forces, made the appeal in his first public statement since Sunday’s vote delivered a hung parliament.
“We – and this means everyone – still need and will always need this approach: a sense of responsibility that allows us to make the general interest of the country and its citizens the priority,” Mattarella said in a speech.
No party or group won a majority, pitching Italy into political uncertainty just as European authorities warned against increasing spending and driving up an already massive debt pile.
A right-wing alliance dominated by the euroskeptic League won the most seats, followed by the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which emerged as the biggest single party by a wide margin.
Both 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio and the League’s Matteo Salvini have laid claim to the prime minister’s job. But the final decision rests with the often-inscrutable president, who must persuade political foes to find common ground.
Senior League lawmaker Giancarlo Giorgetti said he did not rule out any of the available alliances, but saw Di Maio and Salvini as “two alternative leaders”.
The center-right could work with the defeated Democratic Party (PD) to write a new electoral law and hold fresh elections, he said, but would clash on policies, particularly the center-right’s pledges to impose a flat tax and review European treaties.
A short-term deal to govern with the PD “could make sense, but not to write the budget, because honestly our views on fundamental questions, like Europe and taxes, would make it complicated,” Giorgetti told RAI state radio.
Former premier Silvio Berlusconi, whose Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party was unexpectedly beaten into second place in the center-right camp by the League, wrote to his party’s successful candidates on Thursday.
“I intend to do everything possible … to allow Italy to get out of this stalemate, to give itself a government, to get moving again on the path of growth, responsibly and safely.”
All the main parties campaigned on pledges to cut taxes, hike spending and raise the budget deficit from levels agreed with the EU, while simultaneously promising to cut debt.
Aware that the threat of deterioration in Italy’s public finances could weigh on the euro, the EU’s executive had a word of warning for Italy’s leaders on Thursday.
“Especially for Italy, a country that has the second-highest debt-to-GDP ratio after Greece in the EU, it’s important to stay on course as regards responsible fiscal policies,” European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said.
Italy usually issues economic and public finance targets in April, before formally drawing up the budget bill in September, but the election has disrupted that calendar.
Instead, the Treasury will send its forecasting document to Brussels as usual next month, but will base its budget and economic projections on current trends and existing policies.
It will be up to the new government, once it is formed, to issue the budget targets.
(Reporting by Isla Binnie; Additional reporting by Gavin Jones and Francesca Piscioneri in Rome and Huw Jones in London; Editing by Andrew Roche and Robin Pomeroy)