On Tuesday evening, Sergio Mattarella pressed what the silver-haired Italian president had closest to a political emergency button: he called Mario Draghi.
Faced with a health and economic crisis which, in the words of the 79-year-old man, is “the most serious I can remember”, Mr Mattarella will meet the former president of the European Central Bank in Rome on Wednesday, when the chief of the Italian state expected to ask him to try to form a new government of national unity.
Mr Draghi, nicknamed “Super Mario” for his famous tenure at the ECB, is credited with saving the euro from disaster during the continent’s public debt crisis. The Italian Prime Minister’s job, if he accepts it, will likely prove to be as stressful as his previous job at the ECB.
The pandemic – with more than 88,000 deaths from Covid-19 and the most severe economic contraction in modern Italy’s history – fueled a political crisis and caused the collapse of its coalition government last month.
Any new prime minister will be responsible for spending the estimated 200 billion euros on loans and grants Italy is expected to receive from the EU’s Covid-19 stimulus fund – the highest absolute amount in the bloc. If these funds, hailed as an essential manifestation of pan-European solidarity, fail to avert the decades-long economic decline in Italy, the consequences will be felt far beyond its own borders.
Mr Mattarella contacted Mr Draghi after an attempt by interim Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to build a new coalition failed on Tuesday.
The country, Mattarella said, could not afford the months of uncertainty over holding early elections during the pandemic, which are only due in 2023. Instead, he urged lawmakers from all sides to support what he called “a government not to identify with any political formula”.
The immediate task would be for Mr Draghi – who has no history in electoral politics – to muster the support of an Italian parliament wary of what he sees as Mr Mattarella’s attempt to impose a technocratic regime.
Hours after the president’s office confirmed the meeting with Mr Draghi, the acting leader of the populist Five Star movement, a former anti-Euro party that is the largest in the current parliament, announced that he would not support a purely technocratic government led by the old. President of the ECB.
Giorgia Meloni, leader of the right-wing Brotherhood of Italy party with its roots in post-fascist Italian politics, warned of a government “born in a laboratory”.
“The president considers that it is more appropriate to risk a government which, for two years, will have many difficulties to find effective solutions for the Italians”, she declared. “We, on the other hand, believe that it is better to give Italians the possibility of voting”.
Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Anti-Migrant League, said on Wednesday he was not ruling out backing a Draghi government, although the right-winger called for elections which opinion polls would result in its largest party in Italy. “A new phase is opening. We have no prejudices against Draghi, ”he said on television.
Mr. Mattarella’s term as president expires next year. The person who replaces him in a role whose responsibilities are to safeguard the Italian constitution and political stability will, if new elections do not take place, a decision of the current parliament. If the pivot to Mr Draghi fails and no solution to the current political quagmire can be found, a new vote would likely see Mr Salvini having a greater say in choosing the country’s future direction.
If Mr Draghi is sworn in as Italy’s new prime minister, he will be immersed in the cauldron of Italian everyday politics, an arena very different from the refined and market-driven world of the central bank.
Replacing Mr Conte, Mr Draghi would also succeed a man who, despite the absence of his own political party, had become one of Italy’s most popular political figures during the pandemic. While the former head of the ECB is a well-respected figure, his mandate to form a government of national unity would set the country back on the path to technocratic government – an episode that brought unintended consequences in his attempt there ten years ago.
Mario Monti, former European commissioner and professor of economics, was recruited by then-president Giorgio Napolitano in 2011 to head a cabinet of unelected civil servants following the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi.
Mr. Monti has embarked on a series of structural and labor market reforms. By the time he formed his own party for the 2013 election, voters rejected him. The Five Star Movement, an online protest group, burst onto the political scene, garnering a quarter of the total votes. In 2018, he formed Italy’s most Euro-skeptical government, alongside Mr. Salvini’s League.
The difference this time is that unlike his technocratic predecessor, one would not expect Mr Draghi to press for austerity measures – his main challenge instead being to find a good use of € 200 billion. additional funds.