5th Oct 2022


In Italy, sighs of relief as Mattarella stays put

  • The eight rounds of voting it took to re-elect Sergio Mattarella are not an Italian record - in 1971 it took 23 rounds (Photo: Quirinale)
Listen to article

Call an Italian MP today, and one will most likely hear a note of relief in their voice - similar to that of a high school student who passed the 'Esame di Maturità' (a graduation exam as feared in Italy as the Baccalauréat in France.)

Italy's parliament re-elected 80-year-old head of state Sergio Mattarella for a second term at the weekend.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • The Quirinale - the Italian presidential palace home to Mattarella for the past seven years, and now possibly another seven (Photo: Wikimedia)

The Catholic left-winger from Sicily with ice-blue eyes was supported by almost all the Italian parties, including the far-right League, the moderate leftwing Democratic Party (PD) and the post-populist 5 Star Movement (M5S).

It took eight rounds of voting to elect Mattarella — but the government led by Mario Draghi has been strengthened, along with the social democratic PD that is a key part of Draghi's government. On the other hand, populist parties have emerged weaker, in particular the far-right League.

To be sure, multiple rounds of voting for an Italian president is not actually that unusual. In 1971, for example, 23 rounds were needed to elect Christian Democrat Giovanni Leone. The reelection is also something of personal triumph for Mattarella, albeit an unwanted one.

During the last months of his mandate, Mattarella had repeatedly stressed he wanted to devote himself to his family after seven years at the Quirinale — the palace in Rome that once was home to the kings of Italy and is now the head of state's official residence.

Ahead of the vote, Italian newspapers published pictures of his staff packing his boxes for the move to Rome's elegant Parioli district, where he was planning to live in retirement.

Yet a reelection of president is unusual. It happened only once before, in 2013, when the consequences of the financial crisis were still raging. The parliament, fearing that political instability might lead the country to a Greece-like scenario, re-elected then-president Giorgio Napolitano.

Today the spread between Italian 10-year government bonds and German bunds is under control and Italy's economic outlook looks promising. According to IMF estimates, GDP should grow by 3.8 percent this year. A few days ago the third so-called tech unicorn in Italian history, a space logistics company, based near Lake Como, announced it's to be listed on the Nasdaq later this year.

Despite the relative stability of Italy, Mattarella's services still were needed.

The main reason is that none of the parties was strong enough to impose its own candidate.

The leader of the far-right League Matteo Salvini tried to play kingmaker by proposing Elisabetta Casellati, the president of the Senate and a member of Silvio Berlusconi's conservative Forza Italia. But she did not get sufficient support from the parties on the centre-right.

As for the social democrats, the PD, they did not have enough seats to elect anyone of their choice. And yet, the PD's leader, Enrico Letta, played a key role by playing a decisive role in ensuring votes ultimately were cast for the sitting head of state.

"There was definitely a kingmaker, and it was Enrico Letta [the PD secretary]," said Nadia Urbinati, professor of political theory at Columbia University.

A second reason for Mattarella's re-election is trust. Although the pandemic may be winding down, the situation remains fraught for many ordinary Italians. More than 300 people died on Monday (31 January) alone – and Mattarella is the politician who inspires the most trust in the citizens.

A third reason for Mattarella's reelection is the self-interest of Italian parliamentarians. Had Mario Draghi had been elected instead of Mattarella, as some top politicians hoped, parliament might not have been able to form a new government, triggering a general election that would have jeopardized the salaries - and pensions - of many MPs.

Mattarella thanked the parliament after his reelection and said he would respect its decisions, pledging to "interpret the expectations and hopes" of Italians.

Some media pointed out that since the presidential term lasts seven years, Mattarella could end up staying in the Quirinale palace for 14 years, becoming almost a kind of a monarch.

"The Italian constitution does not expressly stipulate a ban on re-election," said Gaetano Azzariti, professor of constitutional law at La Sapienza University in Rome. "In democratic systems it is a fundamental principle that any top monocratic office is temporary," he said.

Several MPs told EUobserver that Mattarella only agreed to a second term "out of a sense of duty". But, according to them, his presence will improved prospects for stability and coherence.

His re-election is likely to have several consequences on the Italian political landscape.

Italy of two presidents?

First of all, it strengthened the national unity government led by former European Central Bank president Mario Draghi.

Mattarella and Draghi respect each other and are both staunchly pro-EU and pro-Nato, and this new era, post reelection, has been dubbed the "Italy of the two presidents" under which Draghi will continue to exercise economic and financial know-how, and Mattarella will wield his political capital and gravitas.

Rarely in the history of the Italian republic has there been greater harmony between the head of state and the prime minister.

Letta's leadership over the quarrelsome PD also has been reinforced while the failed run at the presidency by Berlusconi is widely seen as evidence of the 85-year-old tycoon's growing weakness.

Meanwhile the M5S continued to show major divisions. Luigi Di Maio of the M5S, and the country's foreign minister, would have liked to see Draghi replace Mattarella. But former prime minister and M5S political leader Giuseppe Conte was banking on Elisabetta Belloni, a diplomat and the current director of a department that coordinates the secret services.

As for Salvini, "this was his great débacle," said Urbinati, the Columbia professor.

"It is now clear that the League is divided: on one side there is him, and on the other side there is the minister of economic development Giancarlo Giorgetti, who is bound to corporate interests," said Urbinati. "They have different strategies".

By supporting Mattarella, Salvini also infuriated his ally Giorgia Meloni, leader of the ultranationalist Brothers of Italy, one of the few parties that did not vote for the incumbent president.

Author bio

Valentina Saini is a freelance journalist specialising in Italian social issues and politics, gender issues and the Middle East and North Africa region.


Who will become Italy's next president?

In January Italian representatives will elect the country's new president. All eyes are on current prime minister Mario Draghi, but other names are starting to circulate as well.


Why Draghi could be a two-term prime-minister

Brussels is feeling the Mario Draghi effect, too. After the German elections, this former president of the European Central Bank will become the European Council's most institutionally-experienced member.

MEPs condemn EU Commission 'leniency' on Hungary

MEPs criticised the EU Commission for what they see as the executive not being tough enough on the government of Viktor Orbán, as Hungary's parliament passed new legislation as part of a deal with the EU executive.


What von der Leyen's 'State of Union' didn't mention

Ursula von der Leyen barely noticed that European democracy is under attack not only from external threats, but from within. Two of the world's leading autocratic countries are EU member states.

News in Brief

  1. Russia's stand-in EU ambassador reprimanded on Ukraine
  2. France warns over incoming eighth Covid wave
  3. EU adds Anguilla, Bahamas and Turks and Caicos to tax-haven blacklist
  4. Czechs warn joint-nationality citizens in Russia on mobilisation
  5. Greece to unveil proposal for capping EU gas prices
  6. Four dead, 29 missing, after dinghy found off Canary Islands
  7. Orbán: German €200bn shield is start of 'cannibalism in EU'
  8. Lithuania expels top Russian diplomat

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  3. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  4. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries

Latest News

  1. EU debates new pandemic-type loans to deal with crisis
  2. MEPs condemn EU Commission 'leniency' on Hungary
  3. Czech EU presidency wants asylum pledges to be secret
  4. European navies must stay on Suez trade routes, EU diplomats warn
  5. Macron's 'European Political Community' — how could it work?
  6. EU adopts common charger law, forces iPhone redesign
  7. Last-minute legal changes to Bosnian election law stir controversy
  8. EU wants probe into alleged war crimes by Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us