Key players rally behind Draghi in Italy’s government talks

Former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi will on Saturday wrap up a first round of talks aimed at forming a new Italian government, hoping to drag the country out of its economic and Covid-19 crises.

Key players rally behind Draghi in Italy's government talks
Mario Draghi gives a press conference after a meeting with the Italian president, at the Quirinal palace in Rome on February 3rd. Photo: AFP

Summoned by President Sergio Mattarella this week after prime minister Giuseppe Conte's coalition collapsed, Draghi — dubbed “Super Mario” for extricating the eurozone from its debt crisis early last decade — has already rallied some political players behind him.

The centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and the small Italia Viva outfit of centrist former premier Matteo Renzi – the man behind the collapse of the last government – had promised support, as well as Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia (FI).

On Saturday, the far-right League led by Matteo Salvini — one of two heavyweight antiestablishment parties alongside the Five Star Movement (M5S) — signalled its readiness for the economist to form Italy's 67th government since World War II.

“We stand ready. We are the biggest political force in the country, we are a force that should be in government… unlike some, we don't think we can get ahead by always saying no,” Salvini said after meeting Draghi.

“I prefer to be on the inside and in control,” he said. While he did not reveal any conditions for joining a government, the former interior minister said his final decision would come after a second round of talks next week.

EXPLAINED: How are Italy's prime ministers chosen?

'Confidence of Europe'

'Draghi “already has the confidence of Europe and the markets. Soon he will receive parliament's confidence,” daily Il Corriere della Sera predicted.

Time is ticking as Italy must present plans for how it will spend around 200 billion euros ($241 billion) from the EU's pandemic recovery fund — the largest share for any single country — by the end of April.

Wolfango Piccoli of consulting firm Teneo agreed. “The question has somewhat shifted from 'if' Draghi could form a government to 'how' this government will be constituted, meaning which parties will be part of the coalition.”

Draghi's final weekend meeting was with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), which had backed Conte to the hilt with its roughly one-third of MPs and senators.

But saying he had always worked “for the good of the country,” Conte on Thursday promised not to be an “obstacle” to Draghi and wished him “good luck!”

PROFILE: Could 'Super Mario' Draghi lead Italy out of its crisis?

The League will have to overcome its reluctance to work with the PD and possible reservations about Draghi personally. The former central banker personifies a European elite that the nationalist, anti-immigration party and its counterparts across the bloc love to hate.

After finishing his first round of talks with politicians Saturday, Draghi will meet civil society groups like unions on Monday before tackling the parties again later next week.

Pandemic havoc

While the wrangling goes on, the European Union's third-largest economy is ailing from the effects of coronavirus after shrinking 8.9 percent last year – one of the sharpest drops in the eurozone single-currency area.

A harsh lockdown in March and April brought activity to a near-standstill after Italy became the first European nation to suffer a coronavirus wave.

So far Italy has recorded more than 90,000 Covid-19 deaths — the second-highest toll after Britain — and 2.6 million cases.

The more contagious British coronavirus variant has also been detected in some people testing positive.

If Draghi fails to secure a parliamentary majority or loses MPs' backing after taking office, Italy could hold early elections, probably in June.

But Mattarella, who would make such a call, said ON Tuesday that he wanted to avoid going to the polls while the country suffers through its health and economic shocks.

READ ALSO: Why do Italy's governments collapse so often?


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Analysis: Could Bolsonaro get Italian citizenship to avoid extradition?

Brazil’s former president may soon face legal charges after last week’s attempted coup. Here’s why he’s considering becoming an Italian citizen to escape extradition from the US.

Analysis: Could Bolsonaro get Italian citizenship to avoid extradition?

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has figured heavily in international news lately after hundreds of his supporters stormed government buildings in the capital Brasilia on Sunday, January 8th, in what has now been widely recognised as a failed coup. 

And though there is currently no evidence that Bolsonaro directly ordered Sunday’s insurrection, Brazilian media reports suggest the former president may, in the words of Brazilian Senator Renan Calheiros, have to “answer for his crimes and be interrogated on the terrorist acts he always incited”.

It is precisely the prospect of legal prosecution that, in a turn of events very few would have been able to anticipate, might tie Bolsonaro’s fate to Italy.

Brazilian news media Istoè and O globo both recently reported that Bolsonaro, who has Italian origins, is currently planning on formally requesting Italian citizenship – a process which two of his five sons, Flavio and Eduardo, started back in 2020.

But why would becoming an Italian citizen allow Bolsonaro to evade prosecution in Brazil?

Bolsonaro is currently in Florida, USA, which he entered on December 30th, two days before his successor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was sworn in as the new Brazilian head of state. 

Aftermath of failed coup in Brasilia, Brazil

Hundreds of Bolsonaro supporters stormed Brasilia, Brazil’s capital, on Sunday, January 8th. Photo by Carl DE SOUZA / AFP

But his position in the US is shaky, to say the least. A single criminal charge – Bolsonaro is already under investigation in at least four pre-coup criminal probes – and sufficient evidence to show probable cause would be enough for the States to accept Brazil’s extradition request. 

Conversely, as an Italian citizen residing in Italy, Bolsonaro would be most likely shielded from extradition as the current agreements between Rome and Brasilia exclude extradition for crimes of political nature and the Italian Constitution (article 26) bans the “extradition of [an Italian] citizen unless international conventions command so”.

So, it seems Bolsonaro would effectively be able to evade prosecution by acquiring Italian citizenship. But should he ultimately choose to request citizenship, how likely is it that he would be successful?

While there’s no way to predict what the final outcome would be, he’d have good chances, at least in theory.

Italy is far more lenient than other countries when it comes to allowing people to claim citizenship via ancestry (also known as ‘right of blood’ or jure sanguinis).

In fact, there are no limits on how far back up the line of descent the applicant’s Italian ancestor is located as long as the Italian national in question was alive on or after March 17th 1861, when the Kingdom of Italy was officially born. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Will my children get an Italian passport if born in Italy?

Bolsonaro’s paternal great-grandfather, Vittorio Bolzonaro, moved to Brazil from Anguillara Veneta, Veneto in the late 1880s or early 1890s at the very latest.

Other than that, the issue of Italian citizenship is dependent on one remaining condition, namely that no Italian national along the line of descent formally renounced their Italian citizenship prior to the birth of their descendant. 

Italy's foreign minister Antonio Tajani

Italy’s foreign minister Antonio Tajani has recently confirmed that no request for Italian citizenship has been made yet by Bolsonaro. Photo by Daniel MIHAILESCU / AFP

There’s no way to know whether this requirement is actually met in Bolsonaro’s case, though, if it were, his path to acquiring Italian citizenship would be pretty clear. 

As with all things Italian, the process of getting an Italian citizenship application approved is usually very lengthy (taking over three years in most cases). However, there is a ‘fast-track’ option which, while requiring the applicant to relocate to Italy and become a legal resident, cuts overall processing times to around one year. 

So, should Bolsonaro ultimately go for the fast-track route – and provided that he applied immediately and all his documents (including birth, death and marriage certificates of all his relevant ancestors) were in order – the earliest he could become an Italian citizen would be at some point in 2024. 

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between Italian residency and citizenship?

This is of course all purely hypothetical at present, especially as Italy’s foreign minister Antonio Tajani confirmed on Wednesday that Bolsonaro hasn’t (yet) submitted a request for Italian citizenship. 

But the mere prospect of Brazil’s former president applying for citizenship has caused a stir within the Italian political landscape – several left-wing forces have already asked that the request be immediately rejected should it ever come through.

Brazil's former president Jair Bolsonaro in Italy

Bolsonaro already has honorary Italian citizenship, which was granted by the small town of Anguillara Veneta in 2021. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Some Italian social media users also highlighted the fact that it’s relatively difficult for children born in Italy to foreign parents to obtain Italian citizenship.

“Before (possibly) giving Italian citizenship to the Bolsonaro family you must give it to all children born and living in Italy who wish to be Italian citizens,” said one.

The former president already has honorary Italian citizenship, granted by Anguillara Veneta, the small town Bolsonaro’s great-grandfather originally emigrated from. However, the town’s mayor is now under increasing pressure to revoke it.

Making Bolsonaro an honorary citizen was a “grave error then” but failing to revoke the award after Sunday’s events would be nothing short of “incomprehensible”, stated Veneto regional councillors Vanessa Camani and Andrea Zanoni, both with the Democratic Party.

As for the Italian government, PM Giorgia Meloni took to Twitter on Sunday to condemn the insurrection in Brasilia. However, neither she nor any other member of her cabinet have so far taken a stance on Bolsonaro’s contentious citizenship issue.

Also, at the time of writing, no member of the League, which largely supported Bolsonaro during his tenure as president and praised him as the “pride of Veneto” in October 2018, has spoken out on the topic.

Whether it’s just a bad bout of forgetfulness or deliberate reticence, the silence is deafening.