Italy's new government and old populists / News / News agency Inforos
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Italy's new government and old populists

Mario Draghi has ensured stability, at least until the Italian presidential election in 2022

Italy's new government and old populists

It all started with Matteo Renzi. The former Prime Minister of Italy first split the Democratic Party and created a new one made of his followers and named Italia Viva. Along with the Democrats and the Five Star Movement, they formed the backbone of Giuseppe Conte's second government. Renzi and his party pulled out of government recalling two ministers, which caused a political crisis in the country.

President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella shut the door on the possibility of elections, and gave mandate to Giuseppe Conte to try to create a third government. Following his failure, Mattarella proposed a new candidate – former European Central Bank Chief Mario Draghi.

Last Friday, Draghi presented the composition of his government, and on Saturday, February 13, he officially took oath as Prime Minister of Italy. On Wednesday, February 17, Mario Draghi addressed the Senate and got approval there, and the next day he stroke a chord for his government with the lower house of Parliament either.

But let's get back to the last parliamentary elections in spring 2018. Then the center-right bloc received a majority of votes, just over 37 % (Matteo Salvini's Northern League won over 17 %, Silvio Berlusconi's Forward Italy party got more than 14 % and Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy secured about 4 %), the center-left bloc received 23 % (the Democratic Party as its backbone won 19%), and the most numerous was the Five Star Movement founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, with its 32% of votes. Please note that the election campaign was tough and shrill. Party leaders slung mud at each other and swore they would never enter into alliance with competitors. Especially did the Five Stars work hard, saying that they would never side with either the right or the left. But since neither the center-right bloc, nor those adhering to the left-of-center approach, nor the Five Star Movement managed to win a majority, all the promises were forgotten, and a coalition government became necessary that would comprise representatives of the Five Star Movement and the League with Giuseppe Conte at the forefront (independent Prime Minister, although nominated by the Five Star Movement), while Matteo Salvini (League) and Luigi Di Maio (Five Stars) became first Deputy Prime Ministers.

Heading such a government was difficult enough, like in the "Swan, Pike and Crawfish" fable (though there were two instead of three characters pulling in different directions), especially given that the League was rapidly picking up votes while the Five Stars were losing them, as shown by both surveys, regional elections and elections to the European Parliament in 2019 (in the latter case, for instance, the League received more than 34%, the Democratic Party secured almost 23 %, and the Five Stars got a mere 17 %. To make the analysis comprehensive, keep in mind that Forward Italy lost votes, gaining only 9%, and Brothers of Italy got some 6 %).

Therefore, in August 2019, Matteo Salvini resigned from Conte's government, causing a political crisis. He was confident this would entail a new parliamentary election, where his party would secure 40% and the center-right bloc would get an overwhelming majority, at which point there would be no need to compromise. Salvini already imagined himself as the new Prime Minister, but this wasn't to be. In an attempt to avoid elections, Italian President Sergio Mattarella once again tasked Conte with trying to form a new government.

Salvini was well out in deeming himself able to achieve a new election enjoying sympathy with almost 40 % of the population (as the polls found) – after all, the election that had taken place earlier did not reflect the way things shaped up back then. But he overlooked a simple fact – deputies and senators would perpetuate themselves in office to the bitter end (salaries of over 20 thousand euros a month, attractive pensions even after a single parliamentary term and other benefits of the kind), and will enter into alliance even with the devil himself so as to keep footing. Neither the Democratic Party, nor the Five Stars wanted an election, which resulted in a government alliance led by Giuseppe Conte, again.

But something went wrong again. Things repeatedly began to resemble Krylov's fable, but this time it was between the Swan and the Crawfish instead the Pike and the Crawfish. On top of that were the pandemic and Matteo Renzi's quarrel with Conte. A new government crisis was not long in coming.

Mattarella tried to appoint Conte again (this would be his third government), for instance, by excluding Renzi's party and adding Berlusconi alone, but the structure would be shaky enough, and besides they failed to agree. Therefore, January 26 saw Giuseppe Conte resign.

Then came the idea of Mario Draghi, an engineering expert well-known both in Europe and globally, who long headed first the Bank of Italy and then the European Central Bank. To avoid the influence of various "Renzies" (who would now have won less than 3% in the elections, but managed to dissolve the previous government), Draghi created a vast bloc of parties. To do this, he had to increase the number of ministers so that all the parties would get their seats. Thus, each party received one or several ministers, as a result of the 2018 elections – the Five Star Movement got four; the Democratic Party, the League and Forward Italy got three each; Italia Viva and Free and Equal got one minister each (they gained 3% in the 2018 election). Moreover, eight techie ministers were added, resulting in a record-breaking government of 23 ministers.

As a result, Draghi created a bulky but rather stable government structure. Even if one of the parties quits the government, the whole structure will not fall apart to survive at least until the presidential election. The head of state is going to be chosen by the Parliament in early 2022 for a seven-year term. Mario Draghi himself was said to be considered as the most likely presidential candidate, but there is an option that Sergio Mattarella's term will be extended, or, more specifically, he will stay for another term. That didn't use to be the case, with an exception of Giorgio Napolitano, who was the first one ever to be elected for a second term. However, this did not kick off any questions, especially after the Vatican elected a new Pope before the previous one died (and now there is both an acting Pope and an Honorary one). Moreover, according to Sky Tg24 polls, 72% approve of Mattarella's actions.

The Brothers of Italy has become the only opposition party. This is understandable, though. Let me remind you that in the 2018 elections, it scored 4% and could count on one minister. According to the same Sky Tg24 poll, Giorgia Meloni's party would now score 17%, ahead of even the Five Star Movement with its14%. And by the way, the latter has lost its unity: 15 senators and 16 deputies from this group voted against the government. They will most likely create a new group, like Renzi has once done, splitting the Democratic Party. The sum of two minor parts is usually smaller than the whole. So the Five Stars have lost the fight.

Silvio Berlusconi, speaking about the new government, called the team a good one in general but he would have replaced some of the ministers. Support for the new Prime Minister is high both in Europe and across the globe. Draghi has already stressed in one of his Senate speeches that his government will be "strongly pro-European and Atlanticist (europeista ed atlantista)" and urged the following: "Today, unity is not an option – unity is a duty." According to the latest poll, both Draghi himself and the new government enjoy support, with more than 65% reckoning him positively. At the same time, 47.5% believe Draghi will govern better than Conte (as compared to the 13.7% of those deeming him worse). All the more so as there is a need to distribute 210 billion euros (of them 81 billion in subsidies), which Italy will obtain from the EU. A huge sum Italy has never seen before. Both Europe and Italy cherish a hope that Draghi will manage to spend its more efficiently unlike the previous government has already begun.

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