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PROFILE: Who is new Italian prime minister Mario Draghi?

Mario Draghi, who as the head of the European Central Bank did "whatever it takes" to preserve the eurozone, now has a daunting mission to try to rescue Italy after formally accepting the post of prime minister on Friday.

PROFILE: Who is new Italian prime minister Mario Draghi?

The star economist was parachuted in earlier this month to form a national unity government and lead his country through a devastating coronavirus pandemic and a crippling recession.

READ ALSO: These are Italy's new ministers under Mario Draghi

So far, he has the wind in his sails — almost all of Italy's main parties are behind him, the stock market is up, borrowing costs have fallen to record lows, and his personal popularity is soaring.

Teenage trauma

Born in Rome on September 3, 1947, into a well-off family, Draghi lost both of his parents in his mid-teens, leaving him to care for two younger siblings.

As a young man he was never a rebel, even if he sympathised with the 1968 protest movement. “My hair was quite long, but not very long,” he told German magazine Die Zeit in 2015.

Draghi was educated in a Jesuit-run elite high school where he excelled in maths, Latin and basketball, and shared lessons with the likes of former Ferrari boss Luca Cordero di Montezemolo. 

“As a kid he was the same as now. He always had that sideways smirk he still has now,” another classmate, TV presenter Giancarlo Magalli, once told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

In 1970, Draghi graduated in economics, with a thesis which argued that the single currency “was a folly, something that should absolutely not be done” — a view that later clearly evolved.

He earned a PhD from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, and then taught economics in several Italian universities. 

Mario Draghi, the former President of the European Central Bank (ECB), did “whatever it takes” to preserve the eurozone. Photo: AFP

After spending six years at the World Bank from 1984 to 1990, he led the treasury department at the Italian economy ministry for a decade, working under nine separate governments.

From that position, Draghi masterminded large-scale privatisations and contributed to deficit-cutting efforts that helped Italy qualify for the euro.

READ ALSO: How are Italy's prime ministers chosen?

He developed an insider's knowledge of the Italian government — and also, apparently, a dislike of long meetings.

Speciale told AFP: “When there is a problem, he studies it very carefully, he listens to a wide range of opinions, but when he takes his decision, he leaves it to others to follow up.”

Early in his career, he picked up the nickname “Mr Somewhere Else” for his “habit of slipping out of meetings without people noticing”, said Alessandro Speciale, a journalist and Draghi biographer. 

No 'lame compromises'

In 2002, Draghi joined the management of Goldman Sachs, before being tapped three years later to lead the Bank of Italy after a scandal involving its former head, Antonio Fazio.

He was named to head the European Central Bank (ECB) in November 2011, succeeding Frenchman Jean-Claude Trichet, when a near-bankruptcy situation in Italy risked triggering the collapse of the entire eurozone. 

A year later, Draghi changed history by pledging to do “whatever it takes to preserve the euro”, adding: “And believe me, it will be enough.”

People who saw so-called Super Mario at work at the ECB say he was a skilful negotiator with sharp political antennas — talents he will need to marshall the myriad of parties comprising his new government.

Draghi was ready to play “bad cop” to sway decisions in his favour, a former aide told AFP.

Mario Draghi, outgoing President of the European Central Bank (ECB) presents a bell to his successor Christine Lagarde at a handing over ceremony in 2019. Photo: AFP

“He has enormous influence in European and international circles,” and is someone who does not accept “lame compromises” for the sake of maintaining consensus, the aide said.

 

After leaving the ECB in 2019, Draghi laid low. He spent most of last year's coronavirus lockdown period in his country house in Umbria.

Draghi is married with two children and is a practising Catholic. In July, he accepted a nomination by Pope Francis to sit on a Vatican panel of experts on social sciences. 

And now that he is about to become Italy's 30th prime minister since its republic was founded in 1946, many are looking to him to deliver a miracle for his beleaguered nation.

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POLITICS

Italy’s hard-right PM will not back down on reporter defamation trial

Italian PM Giorgia Meloni said on Tuesday she will not withdraw her defamation suit against anti-mafia reporter Roberto Saviano, despite growing criticism that her position of power might skew the trial in her favour.

Italy's hard-right PM will not back down on reporter defamation trial

On Tuesday, the hard-right leader told Italian daily Corriere della Sera that she was confident the case would be treated with the necessary “impartiality”.

Meloni sued anti-mafia reporter Saviano for alleged defamation after he called her a “bastard” in a 2020 televised outburst over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but took office last month after an electoral campaign that promised to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the trial, which opened earlier in November, to be scrapped.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia reporter on trial for ‘defaming’ Italy’s far-right PM

“I don’t understand the request to withdraw the complaint on the pretext that I am now prime minister,” Meloni said.

“I believe that all this will be treated with impartiality, considering the separation of powers.”

She also added: “I am simply asking the court where the line is between the legitimate right to criticise, gratuitous insult and defamation.”

Saviano, best known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, faces up to three years in prison if convicted.

The case dates back to December 2020 when Saviano was asked on a political TV chat show for a comment on the death of a six-month-old baby from Guinea in a shipwreck.

On the occasion, he railed at Meloni, who in 2019 had said that charity vessels which rescue migrants “should be sunk”.

Saviano is not the only journalist Meloni is taking to trial. One of the country’s best-known investigative reporters, Emiliano Fittipaldi, said last week the prime minister had sued him for defamation.

READ ALSO: Italian PM Meloni takes another investigative reporter to court

That trial is set to start in 2024.

Watchdogs say such trials are symbolic of a culture in Italy in which public figures intimidate reporters with repeated lawsuits, threatening the erosion of a free press.

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