Ex-premier yanks ministers from Italy's coalition government

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Italian Senator, former premier and head of the political party 'Italia Viva' (IV), Matteo Renzi holds a press conference at the Italian Chamber of Deputies in Rome, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. The Italian cabinet was in crisis on January 13, 2021 following the resignations of ministers Teresa Bellanova and Elena Bonetti, members of former premier Matteo Renzi's Italia Viva party. (Alberto Pizzoli/pool via AP)

ROME – A former leader of Italy yanked his party's ministers Wednesday from Premier Giuseppe Conte's government, triggering a political crisis in the middle of a pandemic that could lead to a revamped Cabinet, a different coalition leader or the early election eagerly sought by right-wing opposition parties.

Matteo Renzi, who served as premier from Feb. 2014 to Dec. 2016 and leads the small centrist Italy Alive party, had been chafing for weeks at what he saw as Conte's heavy hand in deciding how some 200 billion euros ($243 billion) in European Union funding would be used to help pull Italy out of years of economic stagnation worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Renzi, while announcing that the farm and family ministers and Cabinet undersecretary were bolting from the 16-month-old center-left government, said he had enough of Conte's frequent governing through decrees instead of turning to Parliament.

“Italy Alive didn't provoke the political crisis,” Renzi told reporters, putting the blame for the coalition government's unraveling on Conte's methods.

“We won't allow anyone to have full powers," said Renzi, who governed as the head of his former party, the Democrats.

It was unclear if Conte, a lawyer who specializes in mediation, would try to negotiate with Renzi or tender his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella. For weeks, the president has exhorted the government to focus on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated the problems of Italy's flat economy.

Renzi’s two ministers in the government abstained from a Cabinet vote late Tuesday to approve a draft plan for using the EU funds. Before Renzi's announcement, Conte had expressed the desire to sit down with his coalition partners to work out a solution.

“A (government) crisis wouldn't be understood by the country,” Conte told reporters.