Umberto Bossi's controversial devolution plans have provoked a rare intervention from Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.
Sig Bossi, Italy's minister for reform and Northern League leader, is no longer calling for the secession of the mythical northern Italian state of Padania. But central to the deal he struck with billionaire Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi ahead of the May 2001 general elections was a commitment to accelerate Italy's devolution drive.
President Ciampi has called on the government to engage in 'dialogue' with the centre-left opposition.
Although Sig Bossi faces possible opposition from the National Alliance, the post-fascist party, he can count on the governors of Lombardy and Veneto who, thanks to reforms by the previous centre-left government, were directly elected. Two years ago they threatened to unilaterally wrest trade and foreign policy from central government.
To aid his cause Sig Bossi is backing Sig Berlusconi's ambition to become Italy's first directly elected president. The media mogul sees France, where the president has extensive executive powers, as a model.