Matteo Salvini has raised the possibility of wresting control of Italy’s sizeable gold reserves away from the country’s central bank in the latest in a series of threats to the independence of the Bank of Italy by Rome’s populist coalition.
“The gold is the property of the Italian people, not of anyone else,” Mr Salvini, deputy prime minister and leader of the League party, said in comments to reporters on Monday.
The comments came after he called for the removal of the leadership of the Bank of Italy for failing to prevent the country’s banking crisis, prompting Giovanni Tria, economy minister, to defend the independence of the central bank.
Italian media reports have suggested that the coalition government, formed of Mr Salvini’s anti-migration League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, were considering using part of the central bank’s gold to fund their spending plans.
Nobody wants to sell the ingots, in fact, quite the opposite, we want to prevent others from having their hands on it
Mr Salvini said he had not studied the notion of selling Bank of Italy reserves to fund additional government spending in detail, but that “it may be an interesting idea”.
Claudio Borghi, a Eurosceptic League member of parliament and close economic adviser of Mr Salvini, has proposed a law to ensure that the Italian state was recognised as the ultimate owner of Italy’s gold reserves rather than the Bank of Italy.
“Nobody wants to sell the ingots, in fact, quite the opposite, we want to prevent others from having their hands on it,” Mr Borghi wrote on Twitter after Mr Salvini’s comments.
Beppe Grillo, the comedian and co-founder of Five Star, last September suggested that Italy could sell off gold to fund higher state spending.
“It would allow us to finally put an end to this annoying story about the fact that ‘there is no money’,” Mr Grillo wrote then. “Why do citizens have to sell their necklaces and not the state?”
The Bank of Italy has the third-largest central bank holding of gold reserves in the world after the US and Germany, owning 2,452 tonnes at the end of the third quarter of last year, according to the World Gold Council.
Mr Salvini also played down the possibility of instability within Italy’s populist coalition after his League party swept aside the Five Star Movement in regional elections held on Sunday.
Mr Salvini said “nothing changes” in the coalition after a regional vote in the small Abruzzo region in central Italy saw a rightwing coalition candidate supported by the League take 48 per cent of the vote.
The campaign in Abruzzo, which has a population of just 1.3m, has generated more domestic attention than usual as a curtainraiser for May’s European elections which will see Mr Salvini and Five Star, led by Luigi Di Maio, battle each other for votes at a national level.
Five Star’s candidate came in third, trailing the centre left with just 20 per cent of the vote or half the level it achieved in the region in last year’s general election.
“It’s a vote in Abruzzo and I don’t think our Five Star friends have anything to fear,” Mr Salvini said, as he moved to play down speculation that the result could intensify intra-coalition tensions.
Since Five Star and the League formed the “government of change” coalition, Mr Salvini’s anti-migration platform has helped him overtake Mr Di Maio in national opinion polls. In polling for the European elections, the League is forecast to crystallise its lead over Five Star on a national scale.