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Mario Draghi formally takes helm of Italian government

Former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi on Friday formally accepted the post of Italian prime minister in a meeting with President Sergio Mattarella, the presidency said.

Mario Draghi formally takes helm of Italian government
AFP

The 73-year-old economist will lead a new national unity government to replace Giuseppe Conte's centre-left coalition that collapsed one month ago, leaving the country rudderless in an unprecedented crisis.

After meeting with President Sergio Mattarella to formally accept the appointment, Draghi spoke only to list the names of his ministers, a mix of politicians and technocrats.

READ ALSO: Can 'Super Mario' Draghi lead Italy out of its crisis?

The senior deputy governor of Bank of Italy, Daniele Franco, was named as the new economy minister, while Roberto Speranza and Luigi Di Maio stay on at health and foreign affairs, respectively.

Draghi will return to the presidential palace at midday on Saturday to be formally sworn in, a spokesman for Mattarella said.

More than 93,000 people with coronavirus have died in Italy since it became the first European country to face the full force of the pandemic one year ago, and the toll is still rising by the hundreds each day.

Last year's shutdown and waves of subsequent restrictions plunged the eurozone's third-largest economy into its worst recession since World War II, and more than 420,000 people have lost their jobs.`

Coalition, for now?

President Sergio Mattarella asked Draghi to form a new government on February 3, and the respected economist has spent the last nine days assembling the widest possible majority in parliament.

Almost all the main parties are behind him, from leftists to Matteo Salvini's far-right League, and including the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and Italia Viva, who shared power before.

EXPLAINED: How are Italy's prime ministers chosen?

Draghi was expected to present a list of ministers to Mattarella, before being formally sworn in on Saturday.

M5S, the biggest party in parliament which began life as an anti-establishment movement, was split over whether to support a government led by an unelected technocrat.

But in an online vote, members backed Draghi by 59 percent, after it claimed to have secured the promise to set up a new super-ministry for “ecological transition”.


Uphill challenges 

Italy has high hopes for its new leader, dubbed “Super Mario” after vowing to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro single currency during the 2010s debt crisis. 

His arrival was greeted with delight by the financial markets, and Italy's borrowing costs dropped to a historic low this week.

But “it is difficult to overstate the scale of the challenges that Draghi and Italy face”, said Luigi Scazzieri, of the Centre for European Reform.

The economy shrank by a staggering 8.9 percent last year, while Covid-19 remains rife and restrictions including a night curfew and the closure of bars and restaurants in the evening remain in place.

In one of the last acts of his government Friday, Conte's cabinet extended a ban on travelling between regions for another week, and tightened curbs in four regions.

Like other European Union countries, Italy has also fallen behind in its vaccination programme, blaming delivery delays.

The country is pinning its hopes on receiving more than 220 billion euros ($267 billion) in EU recovery funds to help get back on its feet.

But disputes over how to spend the money, between demands for longstanding structural reform and short-term stimulus, brought down the previous government.

Draghi's job is easier than that faced by previous technocrat prime ministers, such as Mario Monti, who turned to severe, unpopular austerity measures during the debt crisis. 

“But spending funds is not enough,” noted Scazzieri, adding that the new premier “will find it just as challenging to enact long-called for reforms”.

 

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ITALIAN POLITICS

Will Italy’s Five Star Movement split throw the government into crisis?

After the largest party in Italy's coalition government imploded over the country's response to the Ukraine war, Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Wednesday called for unity. Is another political crisis on the horizon?

Will Italy's Five Star Movement split throw the government into crisis?

Draghi has taken a firm, pro-EU line on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: sending weapons to Kyiv, backing sanctions on Moscow despite Italy’s heavy reliance on Russian gas, and supporting Ukraine’s hopes of joining the European Union.

But there have been rumblings of unease within his coalition government, which burst into the open on Tuesday with a split in parliament’s biggest party, the Five Star Movement.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving the party amid disagreements over how Italy should respond to the Ukraine war.

An estimated 60 lawmakers are following him into his breakaway group, named “Together for the Future” – just over a quarter of Five Star’s MPs.

READ ALSO: Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

The move risks upsetting the fragile balance of power in Draghi’s coalition government, a year before general elections are due and at a difficult time for Italians battling skyrocketing inflation.

A vote on Wednesday suggested parliament still overwhelmingly backs the premier, with the lower Chamber of Deputies approving by 410 to 29 a resolution supporting the Ukraine policy.

The Senate similarly approved it on Tuesday.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“Unity is essential in these moments because the decisions that must be taken are very difficult,” Draghi said before Wednesday’s result, which came one day before an EU summit in Brussels begins.

In an uncharacteristically combative address to deputies, Draghi accused those who disagreed with his policy of effectively calling on Kyiv to surrender.

“There is a fundamental difference between two points of view. One is mine – Ukraine must defend itself, and sanctions and the sending of weapons serve this goal,” Draghi said to applause.

“The other point of view is different. Ukraine must not defend itself, we shouldn’t do sanctions, we shouldn’t send armaments, Russia is too strong, why should we take her on, let Ukraine submit.”

Di Maio had made a similar attack on members of his own party at the weekend, paving the way for Tuesday’s defection.

Five Star leader Giuseppe Conte, the country’s former premier, has argued that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution, warning against getting involved in an escalating arms race.

Conte and Di Maio have been at odds since long before the war, however.

Five Star leader Giuseppe Conte stressed that his party still backed the coalition, saying: “Support for Draghi is not up for discussion.”

Nevertheless, some commentators believe Draghi’s coalition government – involving all main political parties except the far-right Brothers of Italy – will start to splinter ahead of 2023 elections.

The Five Star split is likely to weigh on “the entire political system, starting with Draghi, who is now more shaky than before,” wrote La Stampa columnist Marcello Sorgi.

The defections in Five Star leave the anti-immigration League of Matteo Salvini as the biggest party in parliament, but it too is struggling with waning public support.

Media reports this week suggest this could work in Giorgia Meloni’s favour in the next election – the far-right Brothers of Italy leader is now being touted as potentially becoming the country’s first female prime minister, as her party remains the only one in opposition to Draghi’s coalition.

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