speaker Italian Parliament Lorenzo Fontana
Speaker of the lower house of the Italian Parliament Lorenzo Fontana walks following a talk with Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the Quirinale Palace in Rome, Italy October 20, 2022. Image Credit: Reuters

Rome: Italian President Sergio Mattarella began formal consultations Thursday to form a new government after the victory of the right in September elections, even as friction over Ukraine threatened the bloc’s unity.

The talks, which should lead to the appointment as prime minister of Giorgia Meloni, leader of the post-fascist Brothers of Italy party, should wind up Friday, according to the president.

But the largely procedural process has been overshadowed by an embarrassing audio tape leaked Wednesday of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, whose Forza Italia party is part of the coalition along with Brothers of Italy and the anti-immigrant League party led by Matteo Salvini.

Berlusconi is heard in the audio saying he has rekindled ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including exchanging gifts, while appearing to blame the war in Ukraine on its president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Meloni, who has sought to allay fears that her traditionally Eurosceptic party would break with the West in its support of Ukraine, immediately clamped down to restore calm.

“I intend to lead a government with a clear and unequivocal foreign policy line,” she said in a statement issued Wednesday evening.

“Italy is fully, and with its head held high, part of Europe and the Atlantic Alliance,” she wrote. “Anyone who does not agree with this cornerstone will not be able to be part of the government, even at the cost of not forming a government.”

Berlusconi, 86, also said in a statement that his personal and political position “do not deviate from that of the Italian government (and) the European Union” on Ukraine.

“Meloni, Russian roulette,” read the headline of La Repubblica newspaper Thursday.

Swearing in soon

As is customary, Mattarella’s talks Thursday began with the president of the Senate, followed by the head of the lower house of parliament. These talks will be followed by consultations with the small parties and subsequently, representatives from the main party in the opposition, the centre-left Democratic Party.

On Friday morning, the head of state will receive a large delegation that will include all the members of the coalition of the right that won the September 25 general elections.

According to Italian press reports, Mattarella will wait for outgoing premier Mario Draghi to return Friday afternoon from an EU summit in Brussels, which starts Thursday, before officially asking Meloni to form the new government later in the day.

If all the issues between the three parties in the coalition are settled by Friday evening, the new government could be sworn in as early as the weekend.