Italy’s Prime Minister Announces Resignation
Plus: The freed Iranian tanker sets sail, Boris Johnson pressures the EU, and the other stories we’re following today.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Matteo Salvini tries to force an election in Italy, a freed Iranian tanker heads to Greece, and Boris Johnson tries to pressure the European Union over Brexit.
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Conte to Step Down Amid Government Crisis
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will resign amid a government crisis, criticizing Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini as an “opportunist” on his way out. Conte will deliver his formal resignation to President Sergio Mattarella later today. Salvini—who leads the far-right League party—declared the coalition government unworkable earlier this month, pushing for early elections. By resigning, Conte avoids facing a confidence vote in parliament.
There are a number of plausible scenarios: Now Mattarella will turn to political leaders, who could form another coalition. Only when the options are exhausted will elections be held.
While Salvini is increasingly popular across Italy, not all factions in parliament are aligned with him. The last few days have seen parties meeting to debate possible new coalitions. The Five Star Movement—the largest party in parliament, and the coalition partner Salvini claims he can no longer work with—is open to talks with the Democratic Party. If they ruled in coalition, Conte would remain prime minister even if he loses today’s vote.
Did Salvini miscalculate? Salvini was convinced he could use the League’s surge in popularity to dissolve the government, trigger a vote—and win. If new elections are held, Salvini would likely seek to form a coalition with his fellow far-right politician, Giorgia Meloni, and her Brothers of Italy Party. The two parties would likely garner 40 percent of the national vote, giving them enough seats to form a government, Giorgio Ghiglione argues in FP.
On the other hand, if Five Star and the Democratic Party agree to rule in coalition, Salvini’s League party would return to the opposition. The two parties met on Monday but will wait for Conte’s speech to act. “The situation is so fluid that I do not rule out even a resurrection of the current League, 5-Star coalition,” a government source told Reuters. Aware of the complications, Salvini already appears to have softened his stance toward his coalition partners.
What’s happening with Berlusconi? A new coalition could involve striking a deal with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who won a seat in the European Parliament this year. While he has been a strong critic of Five Star, his Forza Italia party might not perform well in a new election.
What We’re Following Today
Freed Iranian tanker heads for Greece. The Iranian tanker released by Gibraltar set sail for Greece on Monday as the United States asked Mediterranean ports not to help the vessel. As authorities in Gibraltar prepared to release the ship last week, the United States made a bid to seize it. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Monday that any U.S. attempt to take the tanker again would have “heavy consequences.” Any country that accepts the oil onboard would do so in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Boris Johnson ups the pressure on Europe. Facing criticism in London, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is again putting pressure on France and Germany to reopen talks on a new Brexit deal as the Oct. 31 deadline draws nearer. The British government announced on Monday that it would end freedom of movement between Britain and the European Union on Nov. 1 in the case of a no-deal Brexit—raising concern among EU citizens and businesses. Johnson will hold key meetings with the French and German leaders at the G-7 summit later this week.
Refugees ordered to leave Istanbul. Today marks the government deadline for Syrian refugees first registered in other Turkish cities—an estimated 200,000 people—to leave Istanbul. City authorities began cracking down last month, raising fears of deportation. Syrians increasingly face anti-refugee sentiment in Turkey and other neighboring countries. Many refugees have already been deported from Turkey to Syria, risking danger and death, Kareem Chehayeb and Sarah Hunaidi write for FP.
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Keep an Eye On
Germany’s central bank warning. After data last weekend indicated Germany’s economy had contracted in the second quarter, the country’s central bank warned on Monday that it is headed for a recession. A drop in exports and decline in industry are expected to continue through the fall. Germany’s economic challenges have been compounded by the fragile global economy, and particularly the uncertainty of the U.S.-China trade war.
“Fake news” in Southeast Asia. As ASEAN telecoms regulators gather in Bangkok this week, Thailand has proposed setting up hubs across Southeast Asia to monitor misinformation. Other countries in the region have already gone a step further: Singapore passed an anti-fake news law in May that has raised concerns about censorship among journalists.
The Polish opposition. Ahead of the country’s October parliamentary elections, Poland’s opposition parties have united to try to win the upper house. The Senate elections use a first-past-the-post system, and the opposition have agreed not to run rival candidates. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is expected to win the lower house.
Turkey’s Kurdish region. The Turkish government has cracked down in the country’s southeast, dismissing the Kurdish mayors of three major cities and arresting more than 400 people for suspected links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)—which Ankara views as a terrorist group. The move, condemned by Turkey’s main opposition party, could fuel unrest in the region.
China’s quantum tech research. China has invested billions of dollars in quantum technology—an emerging field that uses the properties of atoms, photons, and electrons in information processing—to design hack-resistant networks and prototype computers. In some areas, the research could be pulling ahead of the United States, the Washington Post reports.
Odds and Ends
Protesters in Hong Kong are now using an unlikely character to represent their struggle for democracy: Pepe the Frog, the cartoon associated with alt-right extremists in the West. The frog appears on signs, messaging apps, and Lennon Walls, the New York Times reports. “To me, Pepe is just a Hello Kitty-like character,” one protester said.
That’s it for today.
Update, Aug. 20, 2019: This post has been updated to reflect news of the Italian prime minister’s resignation.