Mario Draghi accepts mandate to form new Italian government

Former ECB president must win cross-party support amid severe economic crisis

Former president of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi called for national unity ahead of consultations with Italy’s political parties. Photograph:   Alessandra Tarantino/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Former president of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi called for national unity ahead of consultations with Italy’s political parties. Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

 

Former president of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi has accepted a request from Italy’s president to form a new coalition government as the country battles to contain the Covid-19 pandemic and the most severe economic crisis in its postwar history.

Mr Draghi, who has built a reputation as one of Europe’s most highly-regarded public officials, was drafted in by president Sergio Mattarella after attempts to revive a coalition, led by former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, collapsed this week, leaving the country without a stable government.

Mr Draghi called for national unity on Wednesday ahead of consultations with the country’s political parties.

“I thank the president of the republic for the trust he has granted me. It is a difficult moment,” he said in a brief speech delivered at the presidential palace, as he outlined the extent of the task facing the euro zone’s third-largest economy.

“Defeating the pandemic, completing the vaccination campaign, offering answers to citizens, relaunching the country: these are the challenges we face,” he said.

He also made explicit reference to the “extraordinary resources of the EU” that are available to Italy, which is expected to receive €200 billion in loans and grants as part of the bloc’s post-pandemic recovery fund.

Political support

Mr Draghi, who has no history in electoral politics, has been thrust on to the political stage at a time when Italy has recorded more than 88,000 deaths related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

He must now attempt to win enough support among the country’s lawmakers to form a new unity government. Failure to achieve this would likely trigger snap elections that Mr Mattarella has warned would cause significant uncertainty.

Some parties face a painful decision on whether to support Mr Draghi’s coalition government, which could cause political backlash from their supporters.

Mr Draghi said he was confident that a “responsible response” would emerge after consultations with party leaders.

To achieve a majority, Mr Draghi will almost certainly have to convince one of either the anti-migrant League party, led by Matteo Salvini, or the formerly anti-euro Five Star Movement to support him.

On Wednesday Mr Salvini did not rule out supporting a Draghi government, but said this would be conditional on the policies that were proposed.

Yet Mr Salvini has repeatedly called for new general elections, which would allow him to capitalise on his party’s strength in national opinion polls.

‘Big gamble’

“For us, supporting Draghi would be an effort and a big gamble,” said Edoardo Rixi, a League member of parliament. “On the one hand we appreciate his skills, on the other we fear a government that does not protect the national interest. This is the dilemma that grips not only the League, but the entire centre right.”

Vito Crimi, the interim leader of the Five Star Movement, on Tuesday ruled out supporting a technocratic government led by Mr Draghi. However, several Five Star lawmakers said the party was heavily divided on the issue and could potentially split.

“For the Five Star Movement, going to elections after supporting the Draghi government would mean going below 10 per cent in the polls,” said one lawmaker from the party.

Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party and Italia Viva, the small spin-off party led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi, are seen as certain to support Mr Draghi.

Daniela Sbrollini, an Italia Viva member of parliament, said: “There will be a Draghi majority and it will be cross-party.

“Mario Draghi represents authority, the most pro-European choice that could be made, and therefore a guarantee in the eyes of Europe and the world. Such a high-profile figure will allow us to start again and turn over a new leaf with a strong pro-European and political imprint.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021

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