Berlusconi pick for premier, Tajani, campaigns in Brussels
By NICOLE WINFIELD
Feb. 28, 2018
ROME (AP) — The man tapped by Silvio Berlusconi as his likely choice for Italy's next premier met Wednesday with laid off Italian union workers and vowed to pull strings to intervene in the politically clamorous closure of their Turin refrigerator factory.
European Parliament President Antonio Tajani met with the delegation on the sidelines of a parliamentary plenary meeting in Brussels, a sign that Italy's election isn't far from his mind even as he continues with his day job.
Tajani, who is about half-way through his stint as parliament president, has emerged as one of the most talked-about possibilities for premier after Sunday's election, which analysts say is far more unpredictable than Italy's usual chaotic political fare.
While polls have consistently placed the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement as the top vote-getter for a single party, its margin isn't expected to be enough to govern alone. That could give the edge to Berlusconi's center-right coalition of his Forza Italia party, the anti-immigrant nationalist League and the right-wing Brothers of Italy.
Berlusconi, who can't run for office because of a tax fraud conviction, has flagged Tajani as a possible coalition-pleasing moderate, a loyal Forza Italia ally who was with Berlusconi when the media mogul founded the party and won his first premiership in 1994.
Often uttered in the same breath as Tajani as a stable possible choice is the current premier, Paolo Gentiloni, in the event of a Forza Italia coalition with the Democratic Party of Matteo Renzi.
Italian President Sergio Matarella will hold consultations in the days after the vote to try to sound out who could form a government. Jumping the gun late Tuesday was 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio, who sent Matarella a list of his proposed cabinet.
With just five days to go before the election, the political campaign in some ways shifted outside Italy on Wednesday.
Tajani met in Brussels with the delegation of workers from Whirlpool's Embraco plant near Turin, which is slated for closure. He vowed to intervene with U.S.-based Whirlpool and Brazil-based Embraco "to make them understand that this isn't the way to invest positively in Europe."
Another Berlusconi ally, meanwhile, Giorgia Meloni, traveled to Hungary to call on its right-wing, populist leader, Viktor Orban.
Meloni, whose extremist right-wing Brothers of Italy party is a junior partner in Berlusconi's conservative coalition, said she wanted to "copy" Orban's fight against immigration, his "defense of Europe's Christian roots" and call for greater sovereignty for EU member states.
Berluconi's other key ally, League leader Matteo Salvini, stayed closer to home, cheering from afar as three regional governments signed agreements with the Italian government that allow them to enter negotiations for greater autonomy. The signings could give a boost for the League, which backed successful autonomy referendums in the Lombardy and Veneto regions last fall.
In the final days of the campaign, analysts predict several weeks of gridlock and negotiations after the election.
"We have a situation that is very complex, hard to predict, but full of opportunities," said Franco Pavoncello, president of John Cabot University in Rome.
AP writers Lorne Cooke in Brussels and Colleen Barry in Milan contributed.