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Italy's populist coalition clashes over EU Commission election

ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s coalition parties clashed on Wednesday over the election of Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen as the next president of the European Commission, in a vote that could endanger Rome’s hopes of securing a top job in the new EU executive.

While the anti-system 5-Star Movement endorsed von der Leyen in Tuesday’s ballot in the European Parliament, the far-right League denounced her as a representative of old-school, mainstream EU politics that it wants dismantled.

“By voting for Ursula von der Leyen, Di Maio has betrayed Italian interests,” the League said on Twitter, referring to 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio.

Von der Leyen secured victory by just nine votes, meaning the support of 5-Star was vital -- a fact that the Italian group hopes will stand it in good stead in the future political horse-trading in Brussels.

“The League has decided to condemn itself to irrelevance (by opposing von der Leyen),” 5-Star said in a statement.

Indeed, the League, which is headed by Matteo Salvini, might pay an immediate price for emphatically rejecting von der Leyen.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told reporters earlier this month he had extracted a promise from other EU leaders to obtain an important economic portfolio in the next Commission.

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Each of the 28 EU member states has a commissioner but von der Leyen, a close ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has to approve each choice as she builds the new executive that will help her steer the European Union through the next five years.


The League emerged as Italy’s largest party at the European Parliamentary election in May and Conte, a law professor with no party affiliation, has said Salvini’s group should therefore pick the country’s sole commissioner.

However, a 5-Star European lawmaker, who declined to be named, said Salvini’s chances of seeing a close aide, such as cabinet under secretary Giancarlo Giorgetti, receive a powerful job in von der Leyen’s team were non existent.

“I think someone from the League will never pass,” the 5-Star source said.

A source within Conte’s office also expressed frustration, saying the prime minister had done all he could to secure a good role for Italy, adding that the League had a “peculiar vision” of what was in the nation’s best interests.

A separate government source said Italy still expected to receive one of three portfolios -- trade, competition or the internal market. “It would be a huge mistake if we did not get one of these posts. We are Italy,” he said.

However, he acknowledged that if Giorgetti’s name was rejected, someone from outside the League would probably end up as Italy’s representative in Brussels.

Italy’s outgoing commissioner is Federica Mogherini, from the opposition center-left Democratic Party, who served as the bloc’s foreign policy chief.

Reporting by Angelo Amante and Crispian Balmer; Editing by Gareth Jones