Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi resigned on Thursday after his ruling coalition collapsed, dealing a destabilizing blow to the country and Europe at a time of severe economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Mr Draghi tendered his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella during a morning meeting at the Quirinal Palace. Mr Mattarella, who rejected a similar resignation offer from the prime minister last week, ‘took note’ of the news and asked Mr Draghi’s government to stay in place on an interim basis, the president’s office said. . While the president could see if a new parliamentary majority was possible, his office indicated that he would disband the body and call a snap election.
The turmoil could not have come at a worse time for the eurozone’s third-largest economy. Like many countries, Italy is facing soaring prices for everything from food to household services following the invasion of Moscow. On top of that, it is also suffering from a prolonged drought that is threatening crops and struggling to implement its EU-funded pandemic recovery program.
Any instability in Italy could spill over to the rest of Europe, also facing economic difficulties, and rob the EU of a respected statesman as it seeks to maintain a united front against Russia.
Mr Draghi, who is not a politician but a former central banker, was brought in 17 months ago to weather the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. But his national unity government imploded on Wednesday after members of his uneasy coalition of right, left and populists rejected his call to band together to complete the natural term of Italy’s parliament.
Instead, the centre-right Forza Italia and League parties and the populist 5 Star Movement boycotted a confidence vote in the Senate in a clear sign that they were done with Mr Draghi.
“Thank you for all the work done together during this period,” Mr. Draghi said Thursday morning in the Lower House of Deputies before going to see Mr. Mattarella. Visibly moved by the applause he received there, he repeated a quip that even central bankers have heart.
Nicknamed “Super Mario” for helping pull the euro zone out of its debt crisis when he was head of the European Central Bank, Mr Draghi has played a similar calming role in Italy in recent months. His very presence has helped reassure financial markets about the indebted nation’s public finances, and he’s managed to keep the country on track with the economic reforms the EU has made a condition of its pandemic recovery plan. 200 billion euros (-dollar).
He was a staunch supporter of Ukraine and became a leading voice in Europe’s response to Russia’s invasion – one of the issues that has contributed to his downfall since the 5-stars fell. opposed to Italian military aid to Ukraine.
Domestic concerns also played a role. The 5-Stars, the biggest vote-giver in the 2018 national election, chafed for months that their priorities of a basic income and minimum wage, among others, were ignored. The straw that broke the camel’s back? A move to give Rome’s mayor extraordinary powers to manage the capital’s garbage crisis – powers that were denied to the party’s Virginia Raggi when she was mayor.
Although he could not keep his coalition restless, Mr Draghi still appeared to enjoy broad support among the Italian public, many of whom have taken to the streets or signed open letters in recent weeks begging him to stay.
Italian newspapers on Thursday were united in their outrage at the surreal outcome, given the difficult times Italy and Europe are going through.
“Shame”, headlined La Stampa on the front page. “Italy betrayed,” said La Repubblica.
Nicola Nobile, associate director of Oxford Economics, has warned that Mr Draghi’s departure and the prospect that the country will not have a fully functioning government for months could exacerbate economic turmoil in Italy, which investors fear it is too indebted and which was already planning a marked slowdown for the second half of the year.
Mr Mattarella had appealed to Mr Draghi to pull Italy out of the pandemic last year. But last week the Five Stars boycotted a vote of confidence linked to a bill to help Italians weather the cost of living crisis, prompting Mr Draghi to offer to quit for the first time.
Mr. Mattarella rejected that offer and asked Mr. Draghi to return to parliament to brief lawmakers on the situation. The Prime Minister did so on Wednesday, calling on party leaders to heed calls for unity from ordinary Italians.
“You don’t have to give me the answer. You have to give it to all Italians,” he told lawmakers.
While the next steps were unclear, Mr Mattarella seemed likely to dissolve parliament after a period of consultations, paving the way for an election as early as late September or early October. The current five-year term is due to expire in 2023.
Mr Mattarella planned to meet the speakers of the upper and lower houses of parliament later on Thursday, his office said. The ad cited the article of the Italian Constitution that says the president can dissolve parliament.
Opinion polls have indicated that the centre-left Democratic Party and the right-wing Brothers of Italy party, which had remained in opposition, are neck and neck.
Democratic leader Enrico Letta said parliament had betrayed Italy.
“Let the Italians show on the ballot that they are smarter than their representatives,” he tweeted.
Italy’s Brothers have long been allied with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s League, suggesting a centre-right alliance would likely prevail in any election and could propel the leader of the Giorgia Meloni Brothers to become the first female Prime Minister of Italy.
Ms Meloni, who had been aiming for a snap election since before the crisis erupted, triumphed.
“The will of the people is expressed in only one way: by voting. Let us restore hope and strength to Italy,” she said.
Some commentators have noted that Mr Draghi’s government, which has been one of Ukraine’s strongest supporters in Europe, has collapsed largely thanks to political leaders who previously had ties to Russian President Vladimir Cheese fries.
Mr. Berlusconi vacationed with Mr. Putin and considered him a friend; Mr Salvini has opposed EU sanctions against Russia after its annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014; and then there is the opposition of 5-star leader Giuseppe Conte to Italian military aid to Ukraine.
After 5-star senators boycotted last week’s vote, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio accused Mr Conte of giving Mr Putin a gift.
This story was reported by the Associated Press.