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Mario Draghi, a Savior in the Land of Miracles?

Mario Draghi, a Savior in the Land of Miracles?
 Marc Lazar
Senior Fellow - Italy, Democracy and Populism

Some say Italy is the land of miracles, and the arrival of Mario Draghi at the head of the government seems to provide further proof. Yet rather than resorting to such clichés, it is important to understand what led the President of the Republic to call the former President of the European Central Bank to the rescue - and why he has such broad support at the moment. His program must be analyzed and its possibilities of implementation examined. 

Matteo Renzi, former President of the Council and leader of the tiny Italia Viva party, sparked a political crisis in January by sharply criticizing Giuseppe Conte and his government, which he had supported up to that point. The President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella then acknowledged the inability of the political groups to reach an agreement to form a new executive government. In his very forceful speech on February 2, he rejected the idea of dissolving the Chambers in order to hold early elections. According to him, early elections would be impossible to hold because of the health, economic and social situation. Instead, he asked Mario Draghi to form a government. Draghi quickly managed to put together a team of eight "technical" ministers and fifteen representatives from six political parties, including Matteo Salvini's League but not the far-right Brothers of Italy. These parties were forced to accept this solution due to Mario Draghi’s prestige, but also because, according to the polls, the population immediately and massively supported this solution. They trusted him to put the 209 billion euros provided by the European Union to good use. This could offer Italy a historic opportunity to meet the great structural challenges that weigh on its future. For them, Mario Draghi - or "super Mario" as the press calls him - represents a kind of savior, the kind of providential man whom Italians often tend to turn to in extreme crisis situations.  

These parties differ on most issues and are all subject to internal tensions, especially the three main parties. The centre-left Democratic Party, embarrassed to find itself alongside Matteo Salvini's League - which it has always opposed - will be extremely focused on social measures.

This could offer Italy a historic opportunity to meet the great structural challenges that weigh on its future.

In his speech to the Senate on February 17, the new President of the Council outlined his top priorities. In the short term, Mario Draghi plans to accelerate the vaccination campaign and ensure that students can return to their schools. In the medium and long term - which implies proposing a recovery plan (Recovery Fund) to be sent to Brussels by mid-April - the priorities are the environment, digital technology, and tackling poverty and inequalities of all kinds

He also intends to enact major reforms (in public administration, justice, taxation, the health system and schools), promote massive investments for innovative companies as well as for education and research, develop public policies in favor of young people, of gender equality and of the southern Mezzogiorno region, and launch major public investments. All this under the framework of European Union membership, "ties to the eurozone are irreversible" he said, so too are ties to the Atlantic Alliance.  

Will Mario Draghi be able to carry out this near Herculean program? This is evidently his intention. The government's program is therefore his own. Although he has neither parliamentarian nor political party support, Mario Draghi has cards up his sleeve. He is well prepared and has, for some years now, been thinking about solutions to Italy's structural problems. He will also benefit from the enlightened advice of the President of the Republic, an experienced politician. His professional background means that he is himself very accustomed to negotiations with politicians at the highest level. He has placed close colleagues and experienced men, in this case senior civil servants and technicians, in key positions of the executive branch. They will apply his economic, environmental and digital development policies without question. He will use his immense credibility on the European level - it will be measured as of his first Council of Heads of State and Government - and draw on his good standing with the new American administration. With him at the helm, Italy can hope to begin its great return in the European Union and the concert of nations, especially as it holds the Presidency of the G20 this year. However the political parties, currently keeping a low profile, may not stay quiet for long: they will soon try to promote the interests of their voters, all the more so since important municipal elections will be held next spring.

In the meantime, different points of view are being expressed within its ranks regarding the strategy to be adopted for the future, especially the question of whether or not it should consolidate its alliance with the 5-Star Movement. The 5-Star Movement is losing momentum, divided between a faction that has become responsible and respectful of institutions, and a protest minority that is tempted to secede. Still, it will fight for more environmental measures, will defend its Citizenship Income tooth and nail, and will seek to favor southern Italians.

With him at the helm, Italy can hope to begin its great return in the European Union and the concert of nations. 

The League will continuously oscillate between its responsible wing on the one hand, based mainly in the north of the country, which pushed Matteo Salvini to support Mario Draghi in order to obtain assistance for business, and its more populist side on the other, who never fail to take up criticism of immigration for example. The League will probably be a party "of struggle and government", as they say in Italy, and Salvini will play a balancing act between the two sensibilities. Thus he now proclaims himself European and would consider joining the European People's Party, but when a journalist asked him on February 16 whether his recognition of Italy's eurozone membership was now "irreversible", his answer was "Irreversible? Only death is irreversible". This is because he fears competition from the Brothers of Italy - which is becoming the only real opposition party, hoping to take advantage of the government's difficulties by attracting voters, hostile to banker Draghi, away from the League and the 5-Star Movement. 

However, Mario Draghi has some time ahead of him. At the beginning of 2022, the Chambers and a few other electors will elect the new President of the Republic, as Sergio Mattarella comes to the end of his term. If Mario Draghi is sure to win he will run for this office, and in that case early elections could follow. If he chooses not to run, his government could last until the end of the legislature in 2023. His task is certainly proving difficult. He will do his utmost to ensure that his government is not subjected to centripetal forces, and that it does not act incoherently, which could soon end up affecting his own popularity or even his credibility. That is why, in his speech to the Senate, Mario Draghi repeatedly called for national unity, referring explicitly to the immediate post-World War II period when all the antifascist parties were in power together and, according to him, laid the foundations for the reconstruction of the country. Mario Draghi is likely betting on the current state of mind of Italians, who are now more eager to unite to escape the current situation, than to sink into their traditional political divisions. In fact, everything will depend on his ability to disenthrall the country from the epidemic, to trigger a real economic recovery, not only in the industrial sector but also in the services sector, and to avoid deepening inequalities of any kind.

Copyright : Andrew Medichini / POOL / AFP

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