It is then that Italy is hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, especially in Lombardy. The management of this health crisis constitutes the second great moment of revelation of Giuseppe Conte's personality, after the previous summer’s political episode. The President of the Council immediately and conspicuously positions himself on the front line. Continually communicating, in particular via Facebook and regular press conferences, he governs by means of decree-laws from the President of the Council, refrains from convening Parliament, only doing so when forced to by the opposition and the majority parties. He imposed a lockdown, first localized, on February 22, later extended to the entire peninsula on March 9. He announced colossal sums of money to support the businesses and individuals most impacted by the crisis. He vehemently condemned, as had done President Mattarella in mid-March, the unfortunate words of the European Central Bank President declaring that the Bank could not do much, or Ursula von der Leyen showing a lack of empathy for the tragedy that Italy is living. Furthermore, together with Emmanuel Macron and Pedro Sanchez, he pushed to obtain aid from the European Union, though still under negotiation and not corresponding exactly to the coronabonds that Giuseppe Conte had wanted. He negotiated the deconfinement well, after convening a general assembly on the economy that brought together multiple social actors and European personalities to determine the priorities for public action. Despite mixed results, the initiative put him at the center of attention.
Giuseppe Conte has since enjoyed a remarkable popularity, never experienced before by his recent predecessors. Moreover, he benefits from unambiguous support from the Catholic Church, whose statements still count even as it has a weaker hold on society than it used to. His image has been restored in the European Union, or at least in Brussels, Paris, Berlin, Madrid and Lisbon. It is not so much the case with North, Center and East European countries who regard both Italy and France as spendthrift and irresponsible states. Giuseppe Conte's turnaround appears to be spectacular. Still, multiple nuances complicate this seemingly monochrome painting.
In reality, what Giuseppe Conte has achieved is not as novel as most commentators claim. In the face of natural disasters, especially earthquakes, history shows that more often than not, Prime Ministers have played a pre-eminent and decisive role. Conte, like others before him, has relied heavily on the Protezione Civile, or the Civil Defence, an efficient and experienced body, very popular among Italians.
Besides, Conte's actions don’t override the obstacles he has encountered, the crucial questions still unresolved and the problems he has created. Giuseppe Conte acted in response to Covid-19 with support from a great number of expert groups, to the extent that politics seemed to take a back seat in favour of science. Tensions arose between the President of the Council in Rome, tending towards maximum centralization of decisions to curb the pandemic, and the regions that have jurisdiction over health. This was indeed true with those led by Lega members, such as Lombardy and Veneto, but also, albeit to a lesser extent, with Emilia-Romagna, whose President is a member of the Democratic Party. The support measures announced by Rome are slow to materialize and often get bogged down in the mysteries of a plethoric and inefficient administrative apparatus, causing chaos and discontent. Following new announcements by the European Union, the government questioned the need to resort to the European Stability Mechanism, which was rejected by the Lega and Fratelli d'Italia. Moreover, the executive is struggling to propose a program of reforms, not only to cushion the shock of the Covid-19 crisis, but also to tackle, at last, the long list of structural problems affecting Italy, such as anaemic growth, low productivity and enormous public debt. It is even more important considering that the measures taken to address the effects of the pandemic could amount to nearly 156% of GDP, with the deficit now exceeding 10%. To the list of Italy’s structural problems we can then also add the resulting abysmal backlog in research and innovation, the necessary reform of public administration, the deficiency of many public infrastructures, etc. The powerful employers' organization, Confindustria, initially expressed harsh criticism of the government's policy, which did not allow for a real economic recovery and did not sufficiently help companies in their view. In the end, a fragile agreement seems to have been reached. The unions are concerned by the social situation worsening in the country.