On January 26, the Italian government – led by then-Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, close to the Five Star Movement – collapsed when its government coalition became untenable. This tenuous coalition included, above all, the left-wing populist movement Five Star and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD). It also included a relatively new party, Italia Viva, which former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi created in September 2019 after seceding from the PD. Italia Viva’s parliamentary seats were crucial for the government to have a majority in the Senate. But following disagreements on access to European funding via the European Stability Mechanism, the management of the European Union (EU) Valorization Facility, the reopening of schools and other issues (including the management of intelligence agencies), Renzi withdrew his support for the government led by Conte. Conte was forced to resign, triggering the current crisis.
For now, the former governor of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, is conducting negotiations with Italian political parties to form a new government. What’s next for Italy and what does this sudden reshuffle mean for partners like the United States?
HOW DID WE GET TO DRAGHI?
In a parliamentary republic like Italy, the resignation of the prime minister triggers a decision point for the president of the republic. President Sergio Mattarella could either call on the incumbent government to face a vote of confidence in parliament or hold consultations with all political parties to explore the possibilities of creating an alternative government coalition. He chose the latter and, if so, tasked Speaker of the House Roberto Fico with exploring the options. If the consultations fail – which they did – the president of the republic can make one of two calls: dissolve parliament and call new elections, or appoint an institutional figure (usually someone outside politics) to form a new government that faces a vote of confidence in the current parliament. For this, Mattarella appointed the former governor of the European Central Bank (ECB), Mario Draghi.
Mattarella argued that while elections are crucial for democracy, the technical demands they would entail during a pandemic would be detrimental to public health, as well as the Italian economy. Elections require at least two months of preparation, during which the campaign and the elections themselves would involve health risks. In addition, the absence of a fully empowered executive government could delay vaccinations and the development of the economic plan requested by the European Commission before Italy can access funding for the EU Recovery Facility.
WHERE DOES ITALY GO FROM HERE?
For now, most parties have agreed to back Draghi’s government and are jostling for key positions. Given the technical (and unelected) nature of this government, this comes at a high political cost for some of them. The Five Star Movement, which at its origins opposed technocracy, is very divided and will probably ask its base – via the Rousseau online platform – whether or not to approve of Draghi. The League also opened up to Draghi, refusing to join its coalition partner Brothers of Italy as part of the opposition (together they govern 14 of Italy’s 20 regions). For now, rumors have it that Draghi has set out a broad agenda, touching on tax and judicial reform, as well as pushing hard for schools to reopen and teachers to be vaccinated. Broad support among Italian political parties may in fact make it difficult for Draghi: he will have to carefully select his ministers, negotiate and balance several positions, and ultimately ensure the operability of this new government.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN OUTSIDE OF ITALY?
the United States and Italy share political, economic and security ties that exist independently of specific governmental circumstances. However, at this particular moment – when enthusiasm reigns as Joe Biden takes office to revive transatlantic relations and multilateralism – Italy matters because of its presidency of the G-20 summit and its co-presidency of COP26. on the climate. Moreover, given the importance of its security ties with the United States and its position in the center of the Mediterranean, Italy is a crucial partner for the United States in the global discussions on European strategic autonomy. In this regard, a high-profile figure like Mario Draghi – who has high-level experience in European institutions – can take potentially stronger positions in international and European arenas. Under his leadership, Italy could gain more political clout in the EU, challenging Franco-German leadership in Europe and in its relations with the United States.