Just one year after the disruptive March 4 election which brought anti-establishment and eurosceptic Lega and Five Star Movement (M5S) to power, Italians are facing fresh political instability. Mr Salvini, interior minister and leader of far-right Lega, threatened to spark a government crisis over the so-called TAV project (Treno Alta Velocità), a joint venture between Italy and France to link the cities of Turin and Lyon with a 58km (36 miles) tunnel through the Alps. The plan, for which works have already begun, is fiercely opposed by Mr Di Maio’s M5S.
The party of the deputy prime minister argues the amount of money required by TAV would be better spent if poured into upgrading existing roads and bridges across Italy.
But Mr Salvini said his Lega’s MPs will “never vote to stop” the project.
He told Radio 102.5: “The majority of Italians are in favour.”
The interior minister restated his position during another interview.
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Hitting out at Mr Di Maio, he said: “If someone claims Italy doesn’t need trains, I will also go ahead and stand my ground, we will be two people saying ‘no’, and we will see who is more stubborn.
“I want an Italy that goes ahead.”
The M5S leader attacked his coalition partner, calling him “irresponsible” for threatening a crisis.
Speaking to reporters outside Montecitorio, where MPs gather, he said: “I’m astonished by Salvini’s threat but the M5S is united against TAV.
“There are millions of Italians waiting to get benefits and he threatens a government crisis?
“It seems to me an irresponsible behaviour”.
Italy is paying up to 35 percent of the costs of TAV, while the EU has pledged to fund up to 40 percent of the costs and France up to 25 percent.
But in December Italy agreed with France to freeze new contracts on the tunnel until a panel of experts completes a cost-benefit analysis.
The project could see up to £257 million (€300 million) of EU funds being wasted if tenders are not launched by the end of March, an EU official told Reuters.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who is not a member of Lega or the M5S but whose positions are more similar to Mr Di Maio’s, said he has “strong doubts” whether his country would benefit from the planned tunnel.
He said: “I myself manifested strong doubts and perplexities on the advisability of the TAV, and I reiterate that.
“I am not at all convinced that this is an infrastructure project which Italy needs”.