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Italy taps Mario Draghi to form technocrat government

February 3, 2021

President Sergio Mattarella has summoned Mario Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, to form a new government in Italy. The move comes after the talks to resurrect the Conte-led coalition failed.

The President of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi arrives to attend the informal meeting of ministers for economic and financial affairs (ecofin) and Eurogroup in Helsinki, Finland, on September 13, 2019.
Draghi is invited to meet Italy's president later on Wednesday to discuss establishing a 'technocrat' governmentImage: AFP/M. Kainulainen

Italian President Sergio Mattarella has invited former European Central Bank (ECB) chief Mario Draghi to talk about forming a new government. Draghi passed the ECB baton to Christine Lagarde in 2019 after an eight-year stint.

Draghi is set to meet President Matarella later on Wednesday

The summons comes shortly after Mattarella called on  parliament on Tuesday to swiftly back the formation of a new, non-political government to lead the coronavirus-battered country, after attempts to revive the previous coalition under Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte failed. 

The president argued that the country, notorious for its troubled coalitions and fragile governments in recent years, could ill afford snap elections at the height of a global pandemic and the resultant economic fallout.

Italy has been in the midst of a political turmoil in recent weeks since a junior coalition partner pulled the plug on support for Conte's government, citing dissatisfaction at his handling of the pandemic. Matters came to a head on January 14, when former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi withdrew the support of his Italia Viva party, taking away Conte's majority in the upper house of the Italian parliament. 

While Conte stepped down last week, he was initially charged with trying to revamp his government. Mattarella had given the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) and Conte's center-left Democratic Party (DP) until Tuesday to fix the differences with the Italia Viva party but the parties failed to meet the deadline. 

"At present, there remain differences, in light of which I have not recorded a unanimous willingness to give life to a majority," House Speaker Roberto Fico said, after a meeting with Mattarella.

President eyes government above political fray

In an address to the nation on Tuesday night, Mattarella said the country could not currently afford to have a political campaign and an early parliamentary election. 

He added that the people were demanding "concrete and rapid answers'' to the health, social and economic crises triggered by the pandemic.

Mattarella said he wanted to help form a high-profile government which would be above the political fray. He also noted that after general elections in 2013 it took four months to establish a government, and five months after 2018's polls. Holding snap elections would risk leaving the country without a government in "the fullness of its functions for months" at a "crucial, decisive" time during the pandemic, the president said. 

Italy has logged more coronavirus-related deaths, approaching 90,000, than any other EU member — and fewer only than the UK in Europe as a whole. It was also broadly seen as one of western Europe's more fragile and debt-laden economies even before the pandemic struck.

Italy's unused hospital

A new platform for 'Super Mario'

Draghi, 73 and also a former governor of the Bank of Italy, is best known for his difficult tenure chairing the European Central Bank from 2011-2019, at the height of the so-called eurozone sovereign debt crisis. He had the unenviable task as a prominent Italian economist of imposing often difficult terms and conditions on southern European countries in exchange for large loan or "bailout" programs necessary to stop them from defaulting on their debts.  His years balancing on the tightrope of satisfying the eurozone's borrowers and lenders alike earned him the moniker "Super Mario" in some quarters. He also courted criticism in parts of Europe, not least from central bankers and the media in Germany.

Screenshot from the bild.de website of a story about Mario Draghi, featuring a photoshopped image of him supposed to resemble a vampire.
Draghi did not always get particularly friendly coverage in Germany: This headline on the Bild website translates as 'how Count Draghila [a Dracula pun] is sucking our savings accounts dry'Image: bild.de

Italy's last "technocratic" government under Mario Monte was established just a couple of weeks after Draghi's 2011 arrival at the ECB, ushering in unpopular austerity measures in the country after Silvio Berlusconi's resignation. It served for roughly 18 months until the next scheduled elections.

dvv/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)