ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte's new pro-Europe government cleared a second key hurdle, winning a confidence vote Tuesday in the Senate where his uneasy, left-leaning coalition commands a slim majority.
After easily clinching a first confidence vote Monday in the lower Chamber of Deputies, Conte successfully sought support in the Senate, drawing 169 votes in favor, 133 against. Five senators abstained, including at least one apiece from the two parties in the coalition: the populist 5-Star Movement and the center-left Democrats.
The two parties have long been archrivals. But they banded together, along with a tiny left-wing party, to forge a coalition to shut out of power Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing League party, which has been soaring in popularity.
The next challenge arrives quickly. The government must get to work on the painful task of drafting a budget law, which must be approved by Parliament by the end of the year. The Italian government must avert a 23 billion euro sales tax hike that would prove very unpopular with voters and would further hit Italy's weak economic growth.
In the Senate debate, Salvini blamed Conte for having "betrayed Italians" for assembling a new coalition that deprived him of an early election that he was hoping would launched himself into the premiership.
Salvini's League now sits in opposition, after he pulled the plug on the previous coalition with the 5-Stars, triggering a political crisis in a move that backfired and led to the creation of Conte's new cabinet.
"I'm proud of not being part of this government," Salvini said in a heated Senate speech. "Sooner or later, Italians will head back to the polls. Whoever fears their judgment has a guilty conscience."
Conte has asked lawmakers to back his plans for radical reforms aimed at returning Italy to growth. On Monday, he unveiled a political platform that tries to combine flagship measures of both the 5-Stars and the Democrats, who have frequently clashed.
In his second mandate as premier, Conte also stressed that Italy wants to regain a key role in the European Union's reform process. He called for less confrontation with Brussels and pledged he would work with Italy's EU partners to reform the bloc's stringent budget rules.
In a clear sign of warmer ties between Italy and the EU, former Premier Paolo Gentiloni on Tuesday was named as the new European Commission's economy commissioner.