ROME (Reuters) - Italian legislators on Wednesday rejected the appointment of a eurosceptic journalist as chairman of the national broadcaster RAI in the first such parliamentary setback to the new anti-establishment government.
Opposition lawmakers struck down the appointment of Marcello Foa after coalition leaders designated him last week, in a move that could also help soothe concerns about Italy’s intentions of maintaining the euro.
Yields on Italian bonds spiked on July 27 after the founder of the co-ruling 5-Star Movement Beppe Grillo relaunched the idea of a euro referendum, the same day that the government appointed Foa, who had contested the irreversibility of the common European currency.
RAI is the country’s biggest television group and competes with Mediaset, the company controlled by the family of Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister and head of the opposition Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party .
Foa obtained a majority of the votes in the committee that oversees RAI, but did not get the necessary two-thirds majority, with Forza Italia lawmakers abstaining.
Forza Italia is allied in several regions with the coalition party, the far-right League. The two parties also ran together in March national elections after which, League leader Matteo Salvini struck a government deal with the 5-Star Movement.
Foa used to work for the Berlusconi-family newspaper, Il Giornale, and has been criticized by the center-left for his strong eurosceptic and pro-Russia stance.
Berlusconi rejected Foa because he was angered not to have been consulted by Salvini over the sensitive candidacy, political sources said.
It was not clear what the government would do next.
Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, who is also 5-Star leader, told parliament that without a broad political deal, Foa could not take on the prestigious RAI job.
However League leader Matteo Salvini told supporters that they should leave Foa on the RAI board and not put forward another name, in a clear challenge to parliament.
“My advice is to confirm (the candidacy of) Foa,” said Salvini, expressing confidence he could eventually win Berlusconi over to his pick for the top job.
A former Forza Italia politician said Salvini was using the question to impose his leadership on the center-right bloc.
“Salvini needed to prove that Berlusconi is irrelevant, that Berlusconi has to accept his decisions,” Augusto Minzolini, a former Forza Italia senator and RAI manager, wrote on Twitter.
Since a March national election, support for Forza Italia has dropped to 8.6 percent from 14 percent while the League has surged to 30 percent from 17.4 percent, according to a SWG poll published on Tuesday.
Leading Forza Italia lawmaker Giorgio Mule played down the impact of the row on relations between his party and the League, which formed the backbone of Italy’s center-right for years.
“The damage is not irreparable,” he told Reuters.
Reporting by Francesco Guarascio and Giselda Vagnoni, Editing by Richard Balmforth, William Maclean