ROME — Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi left the NATO summit in Madrid early to attend a Cabinet meeting in Rome amid tensions in his governing coalition.
Former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who heads the 5Star Movement, has accused Draghi of attempting to have him removed as party leader and of trying to push the 5Stars out of the coalition.
The two sides are at odds because of the 5Stars’ opposition to sending more arms to Ukraine, a controversial stance that last week led to a split in the party.
The 5Stars claim that Draghi criticized Conte in phone calls with the founder of the movement, comedian Beppe Grillo, and claim that Draghi put pressure on Grillo to replace Conte.
Conte, speaking to journalists in Rome on Wednesday, said he was “disconcerted” by the calls and accused Draghi of “interfering in the internal matters of a party that supports him.” Conte said that if Draghi wanted to kick the 5Stars out of the coalition, “you have to tell me.”
Conte said he had reported the matter to President Sergio Mattarella, who appoints prime ministers and is the ultimate political referee.
A 5Stars insider said that many of its lawmakers want to leave the coalition but, for now at least, the party will remain in government.
Officials close to Draghi denied that he asked Grillo to remove Conte. Speaking at a press conference in Madrid, Draghi said he had spoken to Conte and that the government “is not at risk.” The prime minister left Madrid on Wednesday night, a day before the NATO conference was set to wind up.
An Italian official said that Draghi planned to leave the NATO conference early anyway, to be at Cabinet for discussions on energy prices and the cost of living crisis.
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, who led the split from 5Stars last week in protest at the party’s stance on arming Ukraine, complained about those who “while the Italian government is engaged in important international summits, do nothing but feed tensions with surreal debates and statements, which clearly threaten the effectiveness of the executive.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Wednesday that Italy “will be supplying” Ukraine with heavy weapons “similar” to the howitzers that Germany and the Netherlands are sending to the country.
Conflict in the coalition is expected to increase as the far-right League and the 5Stars, both bruised by poor results in local elections last week, attempt to reassert their political identities ahead of a general election scheduled for next year.
The coalition is divided over proposed legislation to give citizenship to around a million Italian-born children of immigrants. Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-immigration League, said the left’s proposals were putting the governing majority and executive at risk at a time of crisis.