The Irish Times view on the Italian presidency: Mario Draghi’s move

The technocrat’s elevation could cause the government to collapse

With no formal candidates, opaque multi-round voting and intense backroom negotiations, the process for selecting a new Italian president is not unlike a Papal conclave. The outcome of the current manoeuvring to find a successor to Sergio Matterella, whose term is due to end on February 3rd, could have far-reaching consequences for Italian politics – and for the European Union.

The leading contender is Mario Draghi, the current prime minister. In his 11 months as head of government, the technocrat has brought desperately-needed stability after a period of crisis that came to a head with the Covid-19 pandemic. He has overseen a successful vaccination campaign, restored market confidence and committed Italy to a programme of structural reforms aimed at reviving the lagging economy. The former head of the European Central Bank has been overseeing the disbursement of €191 billion in loans and grants under the EU's €750 billion recovery fund. Italy is the single largest recipient of funding under the programme, which is backed for the first time with common EU debt, so the EU has a big stake in Draghi's success.

As president, he would retain wide powers, with the final say in naming prime ministers and a key role in political-crisis management. But if, as many believe, Draghi is what holds the current national unity government together, would his departure for the Quirinal Palace cause the administration to collapse? It’s a question that has convulsed the political establishment, where tactical manoeuvring is afoot in advance of a third round of presidential voting.

Retaining the 74-year-old in his current role would please Brussels and avert the immediate prospect of an election, but it would not guarantee stability. For Draghi not to win the presidency, having hinted at his interest in the role, could weaken his standing. And with little chance of him staying on beyond the 2023 election, his authority will begin to wane as polling day approaches. Moving upstairs may be his best chance of retaining relevance and power in Italian politics.