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25th Sep 2022

Draghi's grip on power finally unravels

  • Mario Draghi's exit comes as Italy is trying to qualify for EU recovery funds (Photo: ecb.europa.eu)
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Italy looked set to lose its highly-respected prime minister Mario Draghi on Thursday (21 July), after his attempt to relaunch his grand coalition government ended with right-wing parties joining the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) in deserting him.

The former president of the European Central Bank (ECB) has been on the way out since last week, when he lost the support of the M5S and offered to resign. He was stopped by president Sergio Mattarella, who told him to try to mend the pieces of his coalition.

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The attempt failed spectacularly, leaving Italy, the EU's third-largest economy, bereft of strong leadership at a critical juncture, and heading for snap elections in October, about six months earlier than scheduled.

Draghi was expected to tender his resignation to Mattarella later on Thursday.

On Wednesday, he said in a speech to the Senate that his coalition — including the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), centrists, the far-right League and the conservative Forza Italia — needed a total reboot.

"The only way, if we still want to stay together, is to rebuild [the coalition] pact from scratch, with courage, altruism, credibility. It is the Italian people who are above all asking for it," the premier said.

He was referring to multiple appeals for him to stay, coming from mayors, business leaders, trade unions and even health workers who worked on the Covid pandemic. "This support is undeserved, but for which I am enormously grateful," he said.

Draghi said his government, born out of a political stalemate in February 2021, was a "civil miracle" which was initially successful but gradually lost its way as coalition members started bickering over reforms.

Last week, the M5S triggered Draghi's first attempt to leave as it boycotted a vote of confidence over a €26bn aid package for firms and households struggling with inflation and high energy bills.

The M5S argued the package wasn't generous enough, and was up in arms over clauses allowing the construction of a waste incinerator in Rome, which the party opposes out of environmental concerns.

On Wednesday, as another vote of confidence was held on the government, Matteo Salvini's League and Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia also boycotted it after saying they could only support Draghi if he formed an entirely new government that excluded the M5S.

The premier didn't consider the option, and called an in-or-out vote on his existing administration.

"We need a new pact of trust, sincere and concrete, like the one that has allowed us so far to change the country for the better. Political parties and parliamentarians — are you ready to rebuild this pact?" Draghi asked.

The answer was a definite no. Technically, the government survived the vote with 95 in favour and 38 against, but was left politically dead by the fact that just 133 senators, out of a 321-member chamber, took part in it.

Italy's latest political crisis comes as the country remains on the hook from Brussels to comply with reform targets tied to the around € 200bn euros in loans and grants from the EU post-Covid recovery plan.

Draghi is likely to stay as caretaker until a new government is formed after the elections. It is unclear whether in that role he and his cabinet will still be able to deliver on the reforms required to win the next instalment of EU money.

Italy also faces a worsening economic outlook as a result of the war in Ukraine, with an energy crunch, rising inflation, slowing growth and renewed market concerns about its high level of public debt, standing at more than 150 percent of GDP.

Draghi, known as 'Super Mario' from the time he helped save the euro as ECB president, worked hard as premier to reduce Italy's energy dependence on Russia, and was firmly pro-EU, pro-Nato and pro-Ukraine.

PD leader Enrico Letta, the staunchest Draghi ally, said his ouster was the result of "a day of folly" in parliament, while EU economy commissioner Paolo Gentiloni, a former premier from the PD, said it "could provoke a perfect storm" against Italy.

Meanwhile Giorgia Meloni, whose opposition far-right Brothers of Italy party leads in polls and could win elections in partnership with Salvini and Berlusconi, was celebrating. "If all goes well we could vote in two months, we are ready," she said.

Meloni, 45, is a former fascist sympathiser allied with European nationalist conservative parties such as the opposition Vox in Spain and Poland's ruling Law and Justice. She could become Italy's first female prime minister.

Incidentally, the three parties that brought him down all sympathise with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Author bio

Alvise Armellini is a freelance journalist based in Rome.

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