Prime Minister Mario Draghi during his speech in the Italian Senate.Image Getty Images

    Draghi said the spontaneous expression of popular and local government support for his government was “unparalleled and impossible to ignore.” Mayors, employers’ organizations and medical staff, among others, had called on the prime minister to stay on longer.

    Draghi only wants the latter if all parties from his government of national unity participate. ‘Are you ready? Are you ready to rebuild this pact?” he asked his audience. “You don’t have to give me your answer. You must give it to all Italians.’

    By putting parliament before the bloc, Draghi is trying to end the political deadlock that Italy has been in since last week. The populist Five Star Movement then refused to agree to a financial support package for entrepreneurs and families, because it would not be social enough. Draghi then concluded that his widespread support had fallen, and tendered his resignation. President Sergio Mattarella refused to accept the resignation and ordered Draghi to talk to parliament.

    What does not make the task of Draghi, former president of the European Central Bank, any easier, is that the right-wing nationalist Lega of Matteo Salvini has indicated that it no longer wishes to rule with the Five Star Movement. Draghi will have to reconcile both parties to save his government and avoid snap elections.

    “Draghi wants the parties to come back to what happened last week and continue as before,” explains Volkskrantcorrespondent Rosa van Gool from Rome. ‘By the way, he was not at all conciliatory, it was a really hard speech. Draghi does not intend to make any concessions to the parties. The message was: you go back into your cage, or this government is ready after all.’

    Early elections

    In this way, according to Van Gool, Draghi tries to protect himself against the accusation that he is running away from his responsibilities by resigning. At the same time, he puts the parties to the brink: whoever refuses to proceed now will be blamed for the failure of the government. Early elections, which in that scenario would take place at the end of September or the beginning of October, could break that party up badly.

    ‘The parties are not very keen on being seen as the one who runs away’, says van Gool. ‘There is therefore a good chance that they will continue together. But the Five Star Movement is certainly in a difficult position: if they swallow their demands for a social policy now, their voters will not thank them for that either.’

    Today parliament will debate Draghi’s speech and a vote of confidence will follow. An important question is how many Italians still support the government of national unity. In his speech, Draghi spoke highly of all the expressions of support he has received in recent days. But according to Van Gool, that is also a way to strengthen his own position and to bring the grumbling parties to their senses. “It’s not like the whole of Italy is behind him as one,” she says. ‘So the parties will have to take a gamble. What will they cost most voters: pull the plug now, or give up on their principles?’