Pier Luigi Bersani will meet former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s deputies today, seeking to ease years of conflict in his bid to assume the Italian premiership.
Bersani, 61, has two days to overcome a shortfall of support in parliament and may need help from Berlusconi to get there. The appointment, set for 4:15 p.m. in Rome, is between Bersani and a delegation led by Angelino Alfano, head of Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party.
Bersani and Berlusconi have room for common ground since both want to maintain influence after losing voters to the upstart Five Star Movement of ex-comic Beppe Grillo. Still, years of bad blood make a partnership hard to come by. Berlusconi relishes mocking Bersani for his previous adherence to communism, while the ex-premier has been criticized for his criminal trials.
“Even if it starts, it will not last long,” Nicola Marinelli, who oversees $180 million at Glendevon King Asset Management in London, said of the chances for an alliance. “They’ve been fighting for so long and the people behind them really hate each other.”
Today’s talks provide an opportunity for the two sides to resolve the stalemate and avoid an immediate return to the polls after inconclusive elections last month. Bersani is turning to People of Liberty, or PDL, and its ally the Northern League after Grillo spurned his requests for support in the Senate.
Italian 10-year bond yields fell 6 basis points to 4.56 percent at 9:29 a.m. in Rome, reducing the difference between the yield on similar maturity German bunds 8 basis points to 3.20 percentage points.
The Feb. 24-25 election left Bersani with a majority in the lower house of parliament while splitting the Senate into three blocks. A deal could give Bersani, a former industry minister, his first stint as head of government and allow Berlusconi a greater voice over electoral reform and the selection of Italy’s next president.
“We are asking the PDL and the League to leave the election campaign behind and assume their responsibility,” Bersani said late yesterday at a meeting of his Democratic Party in Rome.
Italy is under pressure to install a government capable of confronting the country’s recession and preventing fallout from the financial crisis in Cyprus. Bersani has proposed what he calls a “dual track” that could allow him to form a cabinet from among his party while requiring him to seek broader consensus for issues like reforms and the vote for the next president.
President Giorgio Napolitano, whose term ends in May, invoked a so-called grand coalition March 22 when he gave Bersani a mandate to seek parliamentary backing. JPMorgan Chase & Co. strategist Fabio Bassi wrote in a report that day that he was “more comfortable” that Bersani would reach a deal with the PDL. Yesterday, Bersani was urged by labor leader Raffaele Bonanni and business lobbyist Carlo Sangalli to open to Berlusconi.
Bersani is scheduled to return to Napolitano on March 28 with the results of his negotiations. If he is able to demonstrate he can muster a majority the head of state may allow him to form a cabinet. If not, Napolitano may give the task of forming a government to another leader.
A pairing of Bersani and Berlusconi would revive the partnership that brought Prime Minister Mario Monti to power in November 2011. While the two leaders didn’t participate in the government, they did provide united parliamentary support for Monti’s program of fiscal austerity. Bersani and Berlusconi resumed their rivalry in the run-up to the election.
Bersani has challenged Berlusconi over his trials and he made respect for the justice system a central theme of his campaign. Berlusconi, who has said his criminal cases amount to political persecution, is free from prison pending appeal of an October tax-fraud sentence and a conviction this month in a wiretapping case.
“A government agreement between the PDL and us isn’t presentable in any way, neither in our eyes nor in the eyes of the country,” Bersani said at a press conference March 7. “It would be like putting an unstable lid on a pressure cooker. So we’re not taking it into consideration.”
Berlusconi is also standing trial on unrelated charges of paying for sex with a minor and abusing the power of his office, allegations he has denied.
Bersani is scheduled to meet with representatives of Monti’s party, the fourth-biggest Senate force, after the Alfano appointment.
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