President Sergio Mattarella’s unexpected and sudden decision to summon former ECB chief Mario Draghi for talks today (3 February) has shaken the country’s political parties and thrown some of them in a difficult spot. Mattarella tasked Draghi to form a government of national unity to tackle the public health emergency and the economic crisis. Draghi took on the mandate of premier-designate with conditions – a normal procedure in Italian politics.
The immediate challenge for Draghi, who is no political novice, would be to secure a majority in a parliament where there is a deep unease towards “technocratic solutions.” The experience of Mario Monti’s government (November 2011 – April 2013) has created deeply-held suspicions, if not outright opposition, among the public and political circles, towards technocratic formulas. The existing parliamentary arithmetic further complicates the task ahead for the former ECB president.
At present, it is far from clear if a majority in parliament would be willing to support Draghi as prime minister. Much will depend on the position taken by the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the Lega; two parties that have long been hostile towards Draghi personally, seeing him as part of the European technocratic elite which they blame for Italy’s economic stagnation over the past 20 years.
After Mattarella confirmed the meeting with Draghi, the M5S’s initial reaction has been negative, with various M5S figure stating that the party will never back a technocratic executive. However, this position could evolve as seen many times in the recent past and given the existing fractures within the party. M5S lawmakers are expected to meet today to discuss and, possibly, decide which line to take. Beppe Grillo, the former comedian-turned-activist and founder of the M5S, has declared that the M5S remains loyal to outgoing Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and will never support Draghi.
As for the Lega, Matteo Salvini has embraced an ambiguous line saying that the matter is not about personalities but plans. However, Salvini has also hinted that the Lega could consider an opening towards Draghi in exchange for early elections, meaning that the shelf life of a possible Draghi government could only extend to the summer (elections are banned from 2 August due to the so-called “white semester”, a term referring to the last six months of the President’s seven-year term of office) or to the Spring of 2022 after the presidential elections. As for the other parties of the right-wing bloc, they have taken a different stance on the matter: Forza Italia is willing to support Draghi, whereas Fratelli d’Italia has criticized Mattarella’s move and is expected to vote against.
The bottom line is that without the support of the M5S or the Lega (or good parts of them) it will be impossible to control a parliamentary majority in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, despite the likely backing from the Democratic Party, Italia Viva, Forza Italia and various smaller parties and groups.
Finally, it should also be noted that Mattarella’s move to play the “Draghi card” has significantly raised the risk of early elections if the former central banker fails to marshal a parliamentary majority.