Opposition parties warm up to each other. On Saturday, the Democratic Party (PD) held a demonstration against the government’s budget law in Rome. The event doubled as a litmus test for the party’s capacity to bring people out on the streets – and its ability to dialogue with other left-wing opposition forces. It was a moderate success on both accounts: fifty thousand showed up, more than anticipated, as PD leader Elly Schlein later admitted.
- Also notable was the presence of Giuseppe Conte – head of the Five Star Movement (M5S), i.e. the second-biggest opposition party in Parliament – who entered from the back, was greeted with applause and warmly welcomed by several influential PD leaders.
- He had confirmed he would participate days earlier, making Saturday’s rally the first time PD and M5S took to the streets together since the centre-right government took power in September 2022.
Rehearsing an alliance. “Yesterday I was with many friends to give a message of solidarity and support and to confirm the ongoing dialogue with Elly Schlein and the PD,” said Mr Conte to the press the day after. He highlighted his “good personal relationship with [Ms] Schlein” and said that his appearance was “another stage in a long journey, but one that we intend to continue,” hinting at deeper cooperation between the two parties – which have grown apart since governing together from 2019 to 2022.
- “I do not cultivate divisions. We are autonomous and different political forces, but we will work together to oppose the wrong actions and policies of this government,” added the 5SM leader.
Still a long way to go. While signalling a closer entente with PD, Mr Conte still took care to stress that the M5S will never “act as a crutch for anyone else. We are in a progressive camp that allows us to work consistently with our principles,” he told the media, acknowledging the existence of contentious issues between the two parties.
- The head of the 5SM’s group in the Senate, Stefano Patuanelli, later expanded on that. In an interview with Repubblica, he stated that “the alliance we will build” rests “on the relationship between Giuseppe Conte and Elly Schlein” as well as an “equal dignity partnership” based on shared positions.
Down to the wire. Senator Patuanelli pointed at the political fight over minimum wage as the most successful example of political convergence between PD and M5S. He also indicated the issue where the parties are most distant: “The wars, especially the conflict in Ukraine,” lamenting the “lack of courage” within the PD to oppose sending weapons to Kyiv.
- This position has been a through-line in the 5SM’s positioning. Detailing his counter-proposals to the government’s proposed budget law, Mr Conte remarked that additional economic resources could be derived from interrupting military aid and proposed to “hit” companies that (in his view) have been earning too much, starting with “the war industries.”
Room for convergence? So far, the PD has stuck with its historical Atlanticist line on arming Ukraine, and it seems there’s little appetite for a shift in positioning. Still, Ms Schlein herself has signalled closeness with the 5SM’s stances on a few occasions, including an instance of ambiguous voting over measures to ensure the supply of ammunition to Ukraine and discussions around NATO-wide military spending targets (which the government is working to meet).
- This, and Mr Conte’s words on their personal relationship, seem to indicate the two forces could attempt to close the gap even on these core issues. But it remains to be seen whether her personal positions can become the party’s official stances, overriding its staunchly Atlanticist centrist wing.