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ITALY: Draghi’s coalition of strange bedfellows

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Mario Draghi began earlier today, 9 February, the final round of talks with smaller parties on forming a new government, followed by separate meetings with key players including the Five Star Movement (M5S), the Democratic Party (PD), and the Lega. The former European Central Bank (ECB) president is also expected to meet with trade unions and business organizations before reporting back to President Sergio Mattarella. Draghi could meet Mattarella as early as tomorrow (unless he decides to wait for the outcome of the M5S’ online consultation) to inform the president that he no longer has any reservations about accepting the mandate to form a new government.

In this scenario, Draghi would then present his list of ministers for the new government to be sworn in by the end of the week. The installment of the new government would be completed next week by votes of confidence in the two houses of parliament, where Draghi would outline his program. One of the key issues still open is the extent to which Draghi's cabinet should be made up of technocrats or include politicians, at least partially. At present, a mixed cabinet – of technocrats and politicians – seems to be the most likely formula.

Recall that at the end of the first round of consultations, the right-wing Fratelli d’Italia (FdI) was the only party that declared its intention to remain in opposition. While the consensus that has been building around Draghi is still a work in progress, the trajectory is set towards a broad parliamentary majority, significantly larger than the ones enjoyed by the last two governments led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Draghi’s appeal across the whole political spectrum has, however, left some parties in a tight spot. Matteo Salvini’s decision to support Draghi has put both the M5S and especially the PD on the back foot, as the traditionally euro-sceptic party will have a say on how resources from the EU recovery fund will be spent.

Despite all the talk about national unity, the likely coalition partners loathe one another. Unsurprisingly, the prospects of governing with Salvini have already accentuated existing divisions within both the M5S and the PD. The PD is one of the big losers of the political crisis, mainly due to the questionable strategy pursued by its leader, Nicola Zingaretti, which left the party cornered after Mattarella’s surprising move to give the mandate to Draghi. Zingaretti could well face a leadership challenge in the months ahead.

The M5S, in turn, will hold an online vote on its Rousseau platform on 10-11 February so that party members (around 125,000) can voice their approval or disapproval of the possible M5S backing for a new government led by Draghi. The participatory democracy platform lies at the heart of the M5S’s pitch to voters that it is a different sort of party, one based on direct consultation with members taking part in policy debates and voting on party matters. In reality, the platform has been plagued by hacks and malfunctioning, and there is no transparency as to who has voted or how, with no third parties allowed to certify that its digital ballots are in order.

The outcome of past online consultations has traditionally reflected the recommendation of the party’s top brass. It remains unclear whether the recourse to the online consultation will help the M5S to reduce the risk of defections, if not an outright scission. However, the fear of early elections and MPs’ innate survival instincts mean that the M5S can hardly do anything other than back Mattarella’s appeal of a government supported by a broad coalition.

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ITALY: Draghi’s coalition of strange bedfellows

Mario Draghi began earlier today, 9 February, the final round of talks with smaller parties on forming a new government, followed by separate meetings