Italy looked set to lose its highly respected Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Thursday July 21 after his bid to revive his grand coalition government ended with right-wing parties joining the populist Five Star movement (M5S ) by abandoning it.
The former president of the European Central Bank (ECB) has been on the move since last week, when he lost support from M5S and offered to resign. He was stopped by President Sergio Mattarella, who told him to try to put his coalition back together.
The attempt failed spectacularly, leaving Italy, the EU‘s third-largest economy, bereft of strong leadership at a critical juncture and heading for a snap election in October, some six months earlier than expected.
Draghi was expected to submit his resignation to Mattarella later Thursday.
On Wednesday, he said in a speech to the Senate that his coalition – comprising the center-left Democratic Party (PD), the centrists, the far-right League and the conservative Forza Italia – needed a full restart.
“The only way, if we still want to stay together, is to rebuild [the coalition] pact from nothing, with courage, altruism, credibility. It is the Italian people who ask for it above all,” said the Prime Minister.
He was referring to multiple pleas for him to stay, coming from mayors, business leaders, unions and even health workers who have worked on the Covid pandemic. “This support is undeserved, but for which I am extremely grateful,” he said.
Draghi said his government, born out of a political stalemate in February 2021, was a “civilian miracle” that was initially successful but gradually lost its way as coalition members began bickering over reforms .
Last week, the M5S triggered Draghi’s first attempt to leave by boycotting a vote of confidence on a €26bn aid package for businesses and households struggling with inflation and high energy bills. .
The M5S argued that the package was not generous enough and railed against clauses authorizing the construction of a waste incinerator in Rome, which the party opposes on environmental grounds.
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 back Draghi if he formed a whole new government excluding the M5S.
The Prime Minister did not consider the option and called for a vote for or against his current administration.
“We need a new pact of trust, sincere and concrete, like the one that has so far enabled us to change the country for the better. Political parties and parliamentarians, are you ready to rebuild this pact?” Draghi asked.
The answer was a resounding no. Technically, the government survived the vote with 95 votes in favor and 38 against, but was left politically dead by the fact that only 133 senators, out of a 321-member chamber, took part.
The latest political crisis in Italy comes as the country remains hooked on Brussels to comply with reform targets linked to the roughly 200 billion euros in loans and grants from the EU’s post-Covid recovery plan.
Draghi is expected to remain caretaker until a new government is formed after the elections. It is unclear whether in this role he and his cabinet will still be able to implement the reforms needed to win the next slice of EU money.
Italy is also facing a deteriorating economic outlook following the war in Ukraine, with an energy crisis, rising inflation, slowing growth and renewed market concerns over its high level of debt. public sector, which amounts to more than 150% of GDP.
Draghi, known as ‘Super Mario’ since helping save the euro as ECB president, has worked hard as prime minister to reduce Italy’s energy dependence on vis-a-vis Russia, and was firmly pro-EU, pro-NATO and pro-Ukraine.
PD leader Enrico Letta, Draghi’s staunchest ally, said his ousting was the result of “a day of madness” in parliament, while EU economy commissioner Paolo Gentiloni, a former prime PD minister, said he “could cause a perfect storm” against Italy.
Meanwhile, Giorgia Meloni, whose far-right opposition Brothers of Italy party is leading in the polls and could win the election in partnership with Salvini and Berlusconi, was celebrating. “If everything goes well, we could vote in two months, we are ready,” she said.
Meloni, 45, is a former fascist sympathizer allied with European nationalist conservative parties such as the opposition Vox in Spain and the ruling Law and Justice party in Poland. She could become Italy’s first female prime minister.
By the way, the three parties that brought him down all sympathize with Russian President Vladimir Putin.