Italy's Draghi cannot pass promised reforms, says League's Salvini

FILE PHOTO: Far-right leader Matteo Salvini speaks during a news conference in Catania, Italy, October 3, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello

ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi will not be able to enact key reforms demanded by the European Union because his unity government is too divided over the issues, rightist leader Matteo Salvini said on Saturday.

Salvini, who heads the League, told newspapers he would back Draghi to become the next president in a parliamentary vote due in early 2022. If Draghi accepts the post, his coalition would automatically fall, opening the way for early elections.

"In any case, it won't be this government that reforms the justice and tax system," Salvini told La Repubblica daily, saying centre-left parties within the broad-based cabinet had very different views to their centre-right counterparts.

Almost all the main parties from across the political spectrum have backed the Draghi administration, which took office in February, meaning it will be extremely hard to reach an agreement on sensitive areas up for discussion.

Draghi has promised Brussels that he will push through an ambitious reform drive to secure more than 200 billion euros ($243 billion) from the EU recovery fund, aimed at helping countries overcome the coronavirus pandemic.

The pledged measures, which have not yet been presented to the cabinet, include plans to cut red tape, shake up the complex tax code and streamline the notoriously slow legal system.

The EU money will only be released in tranches, meaning the taps could be closed if the reforms fail to materialise.

The current legislature is due to expire in 2023 and if Draghi became president in early 2022, his proposed reform timetable would fall by the wayside, leaving it up to the next government to start afresh.

"As far as we are concerned, if he agrees, the next head of state will be Mario Draghi," Salvini told Corriere della Sera.

Draghi has long been touted in the media as the natural successor to President Sergio Mattarella, but he himself has not made any comment on whether he wants the job.

Opinion polls suggest the centre-right bloc, led by Salvini's League, will win the next election. However, the League risks being overtaken within its own bloc by the increasingly popular far-right Brothers of Italy party.

Political analysts say the threat of losing his role as undisputed leader of the right might push Salvini to seek a vote sooner rather than later.

($1 = 0.8237 euros)

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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