The Irish Times view on the new Italian government: Draghi’s moment

The widely regarded former European Central Bank president’s national unity government starts with a fair wind behind it

Italian prime minister Mario Draghi leaves after a ceremony for the opening of the 2021 judicial year at the Corte dei conti Court of Audit, in Rome on Friday. Photograph: Fabio Frustaci/ EPA

Italian prime minister Mario Draghi leaves after a ceremony for the opening of the 2021 judicial year at the Corte dei conti Court of Audit, in Rome on Friday. Photograph: Fabio Frustaci/ EPA

 

Italy is embarking on a “new path”, Mario Draghi promised MPs on Wednesday. His first speech to parliament as prime minister emphasised the depth of the crises Italy faces, and the challenges ahead, but was more than the speech of a technocrat.

There were themes of justice and equality, the fight against poverty, the covid crisis, and the green agenda. A strong defence of the EU and the euro - “Without Italy there is no Europe. But, outside Europe there is less Italy. There is no sovereignty in solitude,” he said. And unbanker-like calls to patriotic duty: “Today, unity is not an option, unity is a duty. But it is a duty guided by what I am sure unites us all: the love for Italy,” he said. “There has never been, in my long professional life, a moment of such intense emotion and such great responsibility.”

The widely regarded former European Central Bank president’s national unity government starts with a fair wind behind it, sixty per cent public support in the polls, and, most unusually for Italy, the support of all the main parties except the fascist Brothers of Italy.

Much is also at state for EU leaders who are counting on Draghi not least to vindicate their decision to establish the radical €750 billion economic covid recovery plan - € 209 billion for Italy in loans and grants. Draghi’s ability to show that Italy can for once make good use of EU funds for investment in digitalisation, the green economy, training and reforming the sclerotic economy, bureaucracy and legal system, is his central political tasks. The recovery fund needs to succeed in a few test countries, such as Italy and France, to increase the legitimacy of fiscal transfers and the likelihood they could be used again in the event of a future crisis.

The challenge is huge. Italy is notoriously inefficient at spending EU structural funds. In the 2014-20 EU budget period Italy managed to spend only 43 per cent of those funds by late last year. By contrast, France’s absorption rate was 61 per cent, and Finland’s, 81 per cent.

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