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The co-ruling Five Star Movement (M5S) plunged, once again, into deep turmoil and is now at risk of a split after a public row between its founder, former comedian Beppe Grillo, and former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who had agreed to take charge of the struggling party. Conte’s plans to relaunch the M5S, initially delayed by a long legal battle with a firm that controlled the party’s electronic platform, were effectively killed by Grillo, who earlier this week posted in his influential blog that “Conte … has neither political vision nor managerial skills.” Grillo claimed that Conte wanted to create a top-down party, betraying the M5S’ original mission to spread direct and participatory democracy.

While some M5S figures are now trying to mediate between the two sides, the crisis-prone leaderless party faces the risk of an internal split as some M5S lawmakers could follow Conte if he decides to create his own party.

Despite the political turmoil within the M5S, the stability of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government is unlikely to be affected. While many M5S politicians and supporters have been unhappy with some of Draghi’s policies, they will be reluctant to move into opposition. Quitting the ruling coalition would mean losing any say in how the money from the EU’s recovery fund will be spent and the perks that come with being in government. Recall that Draghi does not need the support of the M5S to control a parliamentary majority, but their (unlikely departure) would leave the prime minister entirely dependent on those of the right-wing Lega.

The next signpost on the political front relates to the looming start (on 3 August) of the so-called “white semester”: the last six months of the Italian president’s term in office, during which parliament cannot be dissolved. This development and a significant round of local elections in the fall will likely make the political backdrop noisier and less supportive.

Delta variant fears rising

As for the pandemic, the overall situation remains under control, but it is unclear whether the government and the regions will manage to adapt the vaccination rollout to better tackle the danger posed by the spreading Delta variant.

On 28 June, all of Italy’s regions were designated as low-risk “white zones” (a region must have recorded fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants for three consecutive weeks to be classified as a white zone) and rules on wearing masks outdoors were relaxed. The move to relax mask-wearing coincides with growing concerns about the Delta variant, which accounted for almost 17% of total Covid-19 cases in the past month (compared with only 4% in the previous month), according to figures released by the Higher Health Institute (ISS) on 25 June. The Alpha coronavirus variant, originally detected in the UK in 2020, remains the most widespread, representing 74.9% of cases. The ISS is expected to release its next update on the evolution of the pandemic on 2 July.

Health experts point out that some 2.4mn people in Italy aged over 60 – who are more vulnerable to experiencing serious illness caused by the virus – have not yet received the first dose of a vaccine and another 4.6mn have received only one jab. As a result, around 7mn Italians aged over 60 have no meaningful protection from the Delta variant.

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ITALY: M5S turmoil unlikely to affect government stability

The co-ruling Five Star Movement (M5S) plunged, once again, into deep turmoil and is now at risk of a split after a public row