The events bring an abrupt end to a period of relative political unity in Rome and destabilize the EU’s third largest economy, as Draghi was widely seen as a guarantor. For a year and a half, the centrist Draghi led a broad government from left to right, mobilizing his reputation – built as Europe’s former largest central bank – to increase Italy’s influence in Brussels and forcefully assert the strength of the European line against Russia in its war in Ukraine.
But leaders of several coalition parties indicated on Wednesday that they would prefer something else.
“It’s over,” Draghi’s ally Matteo Renzi said on the Senate floor, as three key members of the coalition, angry at a day of turbulent negotiations, announced they would not participate in the confidence vote.
Based purely on numbers, Draghi won the vote. But because the Five Star Movement, the League and Italy Forward decided not to participate, they effectively torpedoed the unity government.
Draghi, to his surprise, chose not to tender his resignation in the immediate aftermath – a move that would have required a visit to the presidential palace. Instead, he will appear before the House of Representatives on Thursday morning. Giovanni Orsina, director of the public school at Luis Guido Carli University in Rome, said Draghi’s resignation nonetheless seemed inevitable.
“I don’t see any political possibility to rebuild the situation,” Orsina said.
What comes next for Italy, whenever elections are held, could be a lot different. The next government is likely to bring together a range of nationalist and center-right parties, including some with Eurosceptic and pro-Russian views. In recent days, some politicians loyal to Draghi have warned that Italy’s crisis was in the interest of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But it is unclear what kind of approach these parties will take once in power. Giorgia Meloni, whose nationalist brothers in Italy are the most popular party in the country and the only opposition group, supported Ukraine against Russia.
“We should think about what [Draghi’s departure] “It would mean resistance to Putin,” said Enrico Letta, the leader of the center-left Democratic Party, in a phone interview. “Draghi was and remains a reference point for all European leaders.”
Over the course of a day of success or downtime, many political experts had expected Draghi to be able to persuade parties to recommit to the alliance. When he tried to resign last week, in response to a mutiny against a bill by the Five Star Movement, it was rejected by President Sergio Mattarella, who urged him to return to Parliament and test his coalition again.
But by mid-afternoon on Wednesday, fractures were evident everywhere: between Draghi and the right, between the right and the amorphous Five-Star movement, with both sides blaming each other for the collapse. In recent months, the dispute has been increasingly between the two parties. Under no circumstances should Italy hold a national vote by early next year – giving the parties an incentive to differentiate themselves in the lead up to that.
“The desire to move forward together has gradually faded away,” Draghi said in a morning address to the Senate.
In that speech, occasionally raising his voice, Draghi celebrated the government’s work in helping Italy during the worst of the pandemic emergency, and most recently in seeking alternative energy sources in the midst of the Ukraine war. But he also issued a stern message, asking the coalition parties to recommit and end any attempts to sabotage the government’s agenda. It was his effort to make sure that if he nurtured his alliance to the finish line, it wouldn’t be so messy.
“We need a new pact of trust – honest and concrete,” said Draghi. “Are you ready to rebuild this pact?”
But he did not do his best to entice the populist Five Star Movement by mentioning its pet projects. And he cast a veiled look at the National League, whose leader, Matteo Salvini, has voiced support for the striking taxi drivers, whose protests the cyclists have described as “violent” and “unauthorized”.
It soon became clear that the odds of a deal were faltering.
Before the vote of confidence, far-right and center-right parties said in a joint memo that they were okay with Draghi as leader – as long as the Five Star Movement was not part of the government. But Draghi said he wants to head only the widest possible alliance – including the Five Star Movement. Because he was not elected – Mattarella handpicked him to lead a national unity government during the government’s crisis period in 2021 – he said he needed the broadest support possible to continue.
In times of crisis, the Italian president plays a big role. After previous government collapses, Mattarella helped the country pull new alliances together and avoid early elections.
If Draghi quits, Mattarella could theoretically try it again, to find a figure who can win a majority and take Italy to the end of its legislative session. But given the acrimony – and the right’s incentive for an early vote – the odds of such a solution are slim. Even if he resigns, Draghi could be given the option to remain as a placeholder in the lead-up to the vote, which will likely take place in late September or October.
Before the vote of confidence, Draghi received numerous pleas to stay in for a little longer – including from more than 2,000 mayors in a petition. Polls have shown that two-thirds of Italians want Draghi to stay. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez wrote an article in the newspaper “Politico” saying:Europe needs leaders like Mario. “
“A dark moment for Italy,” Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio wrote on Twitter. “The effects of this tragic choice will live on in history.”
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