• The Star Staff

Draghi gets nod to form new gov’t and guide Italy out of crisis

By Jason Horowitz


Mario Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank who is largely credited with helping to save the euro, accepted a mandate from Italy’s president Wednesday to try to form a new unity government that would guide the country out of the pandemic and through economic recovery.


“To overcome the pandemic, to complete the vaccine campaign, to offer answers to the daily problems of the citizens, to relaunch the country are the challenges we face,” Draghi said after meeting with President Sergio Mattarella for more than an hour at the Quirinal Palace.


Italy, he said, faced a “difficult moment.” And he said he had accepted Mattarella’s appeal because the emergency “requires an answer equal to the seriousness of the situation.”


Until as recently as Tuesday, the idea of Draghi replacing Giuseppe Conte as prime minister remained a pipe dream for the many Italians frustrated with a governing coalition that seemed paralyzed by ideological schisms and incompetence, especially as the coronavirus pandemic raged and economic devastation set in.


But Tuesday evening, Mattarella summoned Draghi and appealed to “all the political forces in the Parliament” to support a “high-profile government” to meet the historic moment.


He made it clear that Conte’s tenure was over and that the new players, potentially political leaders proposed by the parties supporting Draghi or an all-star cast of politically unaffiliated economists, judges and scientists, were ready to take the stage.


Italy’s stock market rallied Wednesday in response to the news that Draghi had been lined up to lead the Italian government. He immediately began consultations with party leaders that will continue in the coming days in an effort to form a new Italian government.


“I am confident that from the exchange with the parties and the groups in the Parliament and from the dialogue with the social forces,” Draghi said Wednesday, “there will emerge unity and the capacity to give a responsible answer to the president’s appeal.”


Draghi is himself no political novice. He has served in past Italian governments, was a director of Italy’s treasury and knows well the machinery of government at both the European and Italian level.


His name has been mentioned for years as a potential candidate to replace Mattarella as Italy’s head of state in 2022. But now Mattarella himself has called on Draghi, whom he has publicly praised in the past, and brought him directly into the fray.


“Now everyone of good will must heed the call of President Mattarella and support the government of Mario Draghi,” said Matteo Renzi, the wily former prime minister who engineered the collapse of Conte’s government by pulling his small party’s support in Parliament. “Now is the time for sobriety.”


Party leaders on the right and left quickly expressed support for Draghi after it became clear that Mattarella would ask him to form a government.


Among them were leaders who had made great shows of their loyalty to Conte. Nicola Zingaretti, the leader of the Democratic Party that Renzi once led, released a statement that on the one hand referred to the government crisis as a “disaster provoked by the irresponsible choice” of Renzi, but he then welcomed Mattarella’s decision. “We will stand ready to discuss the common good for the country.”


A government led by Draghi could emerge in two ways. If he succeeds in finding broad parliamentary support, he could govern from a position of strength until the next scheduled elections in 2023.


If he fails to find sufficient political support, Mattarella could nevertheless make him the head of a transitional government with limited scope — probably focused on the vaccine rollout and managing more than 200 billion euros, or about $240 billion, in relief funds from Europe — before leading the country to early elections.


“We have at available the extraordinary resources of the European Union,” Draghi said Wednesday in a clear pro-European sign. “We have the chance to do a lot for our country with a careful eye to the future for young generations and to strengthen social unity.”


Mattarella explicitly said Tuesday evening that he has no interest in new elections. Neither does Renzi, who is polling at about 2%, or the Five Star Movement, which has the largest bloc in Parliament but would likely be decimated in elections by its nationalist opponents.


Leaders of Five Star initially expressed their opposition to Draghi, but Wednesday, it became increasingly clear that was far from a unified position within the party, which appeared to be breaking apart.


In one fell swoop, Mattarella’s move to bring in Draghi has the potential to reset Italian politics, which many commentators lamented was not up to the task of governing in a national emergency.


“To think that the most anti-European parliament in the history of Italy could crown Draghi as prime minister today and head of state tomorrow gives a sense of the miracle Sergio Mattarella pulled off in these years,” Claudio Cerasa, the editor of Il Foglio newspaper, wrote Wednesday.

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