By Angelo Amante
ROME (Reuters) - Former premier Matteo Renzi said on Thursday he was ready to help form a new Italian government but would not commit to supporting a fresh mandate for Giuseppe Conte, the man he unseated this week as prime minister.
Renzi triggered Conte's resignation when he pulled his Italia Viva party out of the ruling coalition, depriving it of a majority in the upper house Senate and throwing the country into political limbo in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
The crisis is worrying Rome's partners and hampering its efforts to put together a recovery plan needed to obtain more than 200 billion euros ($242 billion) of European Union financing to rebuild its coronavirus-battered economy.
President Sergio Mattarella is holding three days of talks with party leaders to try to resolve the turmoil.
He has an array of options, including looking to revive the old administration or else creating a government of technocrats to see Italy through the health and economic crises. Failing that, he could call elections two years early.
After his meeting with the head of state, Renzi said he preferred the option of forming a new "political" government, but dodged questions on whether he had posed a veto against Conte returning as prime minister.
"We are not at that point," Renzi told reporters, adding that he expected his party would play a central role moving forward. "I see no possibility of forming a majority that does not include Italia Viva," he said.
Renzi, whose tiny party has barely 2.0% of voter support, has accused Conte of lacking a strategic vision, saying he risked squandering the unprecedented EU bonanza on hand-outs rather than long-term investments.
Conte has expressed no desire to patch things up with the man who unseated him, especially as any reconciliation would come at the price of a new policy agenda more to Renzi's liking.
But the caretaker prime minister's options are dwindling as he has so far had no success in luring unaligned and opposition senators to the government's ranks to restore his majority.
Both the main ruling parties - the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) - say they want Mattarella to give Conte a new mandate, but they seem unable to guarantee him a majority in both houses of parliament.
In this case, the president may designate another candidate to try to form a government to manage the EU fund in the hope that they can command more parliamentary backing than Conte.
Mattarella's consultations finish on Friday afternoon. He could immediately ask someone to try to form a new government, or else he could decide he needs further talks to come up with a lasting solution.
EU budget commissioner Johannes Hahn this week urged Italy to rapidly solve its crisis.
"If its politicians were to be distracted by an election campaign they couldn't concentrate on what the country needs," he told La Stampa newspaper.
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(Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer and Gavin Jones; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alison Williams)