February 18, 2021

Europe

ITALY: Draghi’s program – A break from the past

BY Wolfango Piccoli

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( 3 mins)

Prime Minister Mario Draghi won his first confidence vote in the Senate late on 17 February, after calling for unity and sacrifices to bring the country out of an unprecedented health and economic emergency. Draghi’s new government, which was sworn in late last week after obtaining the support of a broad but fractious coalition, won the confidence ballot with 262 votes in favor, 40 against and two abstentions. A confidence vote today (18 February) in the Chamber of Deputies is also expected to give Draghi broad backing. Once the confidence vote formalities are completed, the government will be fully operational.

The only party that refused to take part in Draghi’s administration is the far-right Brothers of Italy (FdI) party, whose 19 senators all voted against him yesterday. However, 15 dissenters from the Five Star Movement (M5S), which is a partner in the ruling coalition, also voted against Draghi, while eight other M5S Senators were absent. Those 15 Senators who voted against will likely be expelled from the party, reducing the M5S parliamentary group in the Senate to 77 (the party had 111 at the start of the legislature). After yesterday’s confidence vote, the center-right carries more weight within the broad coalition in the Senate than the bloc composed by the M5S, Democratic Party and a small leftist party.

A bold departure

In his first speech detailing the program of his government, Draghi marked a significant break from the policies and priorities pursued by the previous government. Draghi ditched the past administration’s statist approach indicating that the role of the state in the economy and the scope of its interventions will have to be carefully evaluated. While referring to the EU recovery fund, Draghi mention first the issue of competition, indicating that an overhaul of the existing regime is needed. On the welfare front, he listed the youth, women and the self-employed as the priority categories for his government – a radical departure from the recurrent focus on pensioners and employed workers.

As for the fight against the pandemic and the vaccination rollout, Draghi called for a bigger involvement of the private sector and for a more synergistic usage of existing facilities (rather than building primrose-shaped gazebos as envisaged by the former government) and resources (military, civil protection and volunteers) to administer the vaccines.

The new PM also outlined an ambitious agenda of structural reforms, ranging from gender parity to civil justice, the public administration and the tax system. On the European level, he reasserted Italy’s commitment to playing a central role in a more integrated EU/EZ (a common fiscal facility to help countries fight recessions will be a priority) and called for closer collaboration with Germany and France. Knowing that he needs Parliament’s backing to accomplish his ambitious program, Draghi called on the lawmakers to put aside their political interests in a spirit of sacrifice for future generations

Given Draghi’s priorities and the delicate negotiations required to persuade his political backers (who have traditionally pursued policies radically opposed on multiple fronts, including the role of the state in the economy, corporate interventionism and taxation) to support them, the first 100 days in office should provide (perhaps more than ever before) a good sense on what is achievable or not, especially concerning reforms that have been side-lined for decades.

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