After an impossibly long day in the senate in Rome, the unity Prime Minister Mario Draghi had called for in the morning turned out to be hard to find. Draghi’s government survived a confidence vote that evening, but three ruling parties abstained. Italy is already speculating about early elections on October 2.
Draghi will go to the Italian House of Representatives on Thursday morning, and according to the Italian news agency Ansa, which refers to parliamentary sources, he will announce there that he will tender his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella.
This will bring an early end to the ‘government of national unity’, in which all other political parties except one (the radical right Brothers of Italy of Giorgia Meloni) have been participating since February last year.
Also read: Draghi is being asked to stay on from all corners in Italy
Draghi, not a party politician but a technocrat, then accepted President Sergio Mattarella’s assignment to lead a unity government to steer Italy out of the corona pandemic that has severely damaged Italy humanly, socially and economically. The head of state addressed that request to Draghi because the former president of the European Central Bank has a long track record and strong reputation.
The Draghi government got off to a flying start, drew up a convincing reform plan to bring in the billions from the European Reconstruction Fund, and got to reform. But in recent weeks, political problems have piled up, and Draghi has been fed up.
In the Senate, Draghi was outspoken and fierce, and did not spare troublemakers from criticism. For months, Draghi noted that divisions were growing. He added unequivocally that he had come to parliament after his resignation offer last week, impressed by the strong call from Italian society to continue to govern. “We are here today, because of that demand from the Italians – and for that reason alone.”
Because he was never elected, Draghi wanted to be able to count on the widest possible support in parliament as head of government. He then asked the senators if they were willing to reconstitute that broad majority that can govern the country in an emergency, regardless of partisan interests. Draghi’s very direct words Siete pronti? – or “Are you ready?” – summarize this Italian governmental crisis and now go down in history.
But already during Draghi’s speech it was clear in the auditorium of the Palazzo Madama that not all senators were on the same page. Matteo Salvini, senator and party leader of the right-wing ruling party Lega, emphatically did not applaud. The Five Star Movement, the cause of this government crisis, was also not satisfied with Draghi’s speech.
Italy speculates on early elections in October
However, this time it was the centre-right that created a new obstacle. Salvini’s Lega and Forza Italia, the party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, came up with a package of demands, just after Draghi made it clear that he did not want to accept new demands, vetoes or ultimatums. Center-right demanded that the government squad be thoroughly reshuffled, and the Five Star Movement kicked out.
After hours of debate, Draghi got the last word. The prime minister gave the impression that his patience had run out, and said he did not have much to add to his speech from earlier in the day. However, he emphasized that he “hadn’t asked for absolute power at all, clearly?” – a sneer at, among others, opposition politician Giorgia Meloni, who had accused him of this. Had he not wanted to respect parliamentary democracy, Draghi said, he would have just come back that morning to repeat his resignation. “So vote now,” he said then, without saying a word about the extra demands of the centre-right.
That could only be interpreted as ‘vote my government home’. But the sleepers Five Stars, Lega and Forza Italia did not. They abstained, as a result of which the Draghi government still gained confidence in a considerably thinned Senate, but without the support of three ruling parties.
The chances are very slim that President Mattarella can refuse Draghi’s resignation a second time. This will most likely lead to early elections, possibly on 2 or 9 October, about six months before the end of the current parliament. Those extra six months would have made a real difference with Draghi at the helm. A budget has yet to be approved, and there are 55 targets for the European reconstruction money that have yet to be met, in order for a tranche of EUR 19 billion to be disbursed.
In addition, this Thursday, the day Mario Draghi resigns, the European Central Bank will announce more details about a new tool to prevent the interest rate hike (in the fight against inflation) from derailing the Italian public debt. Draghi’s experienced leadership was crucial in reassuring the ECB, and the markets.
Italian Paolo Gentiloni, the European Commissioner for Economy and himself a former prime minister, spoke on Twitter of an “irresponsible” step against Draghi, which could turn into “a perfect storm”. He warned that Italy faces difficult months.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of 21 July 2022